I used to love patty melts. In fact, it was one of my favorite things to order when we went out to dinner at a greasy spoon. Celiac disease (and a low-carb paleo diet) put the patty melt out of reach for me, but I know I could find a way to get all the same flavors without it having to be a greasy burger.
Whenever I’m trying to recreate flavor profiles of a favorite dish I can no longer have, my first stop is soup. I figure you can recreate almost any flavor in a soup. In this case, it worked. Patty melt cravings satisfied in a delicious, low-carb, paleo way.
Patty Melt Soup
4 slices bacon, cut into pieces
2 pounds ground beef
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground caraway seed (use a spice grinder if you can’t find it ground)
I know, I know. More soup. It’s the first day of fall, so a nice, warming soup is perfect for your dinner.
One of the reasons I like soups and stews so much is that they really provide an opportunity to build flavor, which gives them a complex, rich taste. In the case of this soup, the complex flavors come from taking the time to brown your meat and caramelize your onions, which adds a deep savory richness to the soup. This soup is pretty easy and hands-off, so while it takes a bit of time to come together, it isn’t terribly labor-intensive.
Caramelized Onion and Italian Sausage Soup
2 tablespoons duck fat, lard, or your favorite fat
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you may have noticed that I make a lot of soup. It’s because I love soup. I make some type of soup at least once a week. You can load soups with healthy bone broth, veggies, meats, herbs, and spices and never have the same meal twice. Well, actually – I usually have the same meal twice with leftovers for the freezer, but that’s because I follow the cook once eat twice (or more) philosophy. That means I always make an extra big batch of soup because I just know some is destined for the freezer. Of course, that also means I have a slow cooker full of broth simmering on the counter several days per week, as well. Because if you’re going to make the most flavorful soup, you definitely need homemade bone broth
While I used homemade duck stock for the soup and ground duck for the meatballs, feel free to replace those ingredients with chicken stock and ground pork if you wish.
Spicy Asian Meatball and Vegetable Soup
3 bunches green onions, chopped, divided
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed but reserved, caps sliced
10 garlic cloves, chopped, divided
1 bunch chopped fresh cilantro, divided
2 teaspoons grated gingerroot, divided
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon Chinese dry mustard powder
2 pounds ground duck (or ground pork)
1/2 teaspoon expeller pressed sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Red Boat fish sauce
2 tablespoons homemade sriracha, divided (or 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes)
2 tablespoons of duck fat (or another paleo-friendly fat)
6-8 cups homemade duck stock (or chicken stock)
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 bunches of baby bok choy, chopped
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping blade, add one bunch of the green onions, the shiitake mushroom stems (save the caps), 5 cloves of the garlic, half of the cilantro, 1 teaspoon of the gingerroot, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the mustard powder. Pulse for 10 one-second pulses, or until everything is extremely well chopped.
In a medium bowl, combine the ground duck, the sesame oil, the fish sauce, and one tablespoon of the sriracha with the contents of the food processor. Mix with your hands until well-combined. Form into one-inch meatballs and set aside.
In a large pot, heat the duck fat on medium-high until it shimmers. Add the remaining two bunches of chopped green onions and one teaspoon of grated gingerroot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, four to five minutes.
Add the remaining five cloves of chopped garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the duck stock, the pepper, the remaining sriracha, the carrots, and the sliced shiitake mushroom caps to the pot. Bring it to a boil.
Drop the meatballs into the boiling soup and return the pot to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
Add the bok choy and the remaining cilantro to the pot. Turn of the heat. Allow the soup to sit for five minutes before serving.
I love soup! It’s delicious, you can load it with veggies, and it’s quick and easy to prepare. We’ve got some big-time meat eaters in our family, so I especially like making soup with meatballs in it to make a really meaty soup. Tonight is the first time I’ve made this soup, but it was really tasty.
Italian Meatball Veggie Soup
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons duck fat (or another paleo-friendly fat)
1 onion, chopped
8 cups homemade beef or chicken stock
1 can (14 ounces) organic chopped tomatoes (undrained)
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 zucchini, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 cups baby spinach
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the Italian sausage, ground beef, one tablespoon of the garlic, the Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper, mixing until well combined. Form into one-inch meatballs. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat the duck fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown, about five minutes.
Add the stock, the remaining one teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, tomatoes, fennel, red pepper, mushrooms, zucchini, and carrots. Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a boil.
Drop in the meatballs. Return the soup to a boil and cook until the meatballs are cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes (depending on size).
Stir in the baby spinach and basil. Remove the soup from the heat.
For me, cooking for my family and friends is about more than just the Zen I achieve in the kitchen. It’s also about putting love on a plate. Food that is made with love has a certain extra something that you don’t get when you open a can or microwave a meal. I spend time considering ingredients, deciding how to build flavors, and planning which foods will complement one another on a plate. I try to create foods that the people I am cooking for will love. I put my heart and soul into my food, and hopefully it comes across in the way I intended it – as a plate or bowl full of pure love.
Today, I made a simple dish, but for me it is the epitome of love in a bowl: chicken soup. This simple meal can be tremendously satisfying when you take the time to develop flavors. Making it even more satisfying, I made some basic egg noodle dough and rough cut noodles that floated in the soup. As sometimes happens, fate stepped in and I had a bunch of ingredients in my refrigerator that lent itself well to chicken soup – and that I needed to get rid of. The result was delicious, and the thickly cut egg noodles made it hearty and satisfying, as well.
Homemade Egg Noodles
1-1/2 cup of flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour, and crack the eggs into it.
I mix the noodles with my (very clean) hands, gradually incorporating the flour into the eggs until I have a rough dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Allow the dough to sit for 10 minutes to relax the glutens.
If using a pasta roller, roll to desired width and roughly cut into egg noodles.
If using a rolling pin, roll the dough to desired thickness and cut into strips.
Set aside for a few hours to dry slightly.
Chicken Soup with Egg Noodles
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken – I prefer thighs for flavor and texture
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Lite (in color – not calories) olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, chopped
Juice of one or two lemons
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cut chicken into bite sized chunks. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a few swirls of lite olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat until it shimmers.
Working in batches, cook chicken in the pot. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Allow the chicken full contact with the pot bottom until it starts to brown. As the meat browns, it caramelizes the sugars in the protein, known as the Maillard reaction. Once the meat has caramelized on one side, turn it over to allow it to continue to cook through. Your chicken will not react with caramelization if the pan is too crowded, so work in two or three batches.
Remove the cooked chicken from the pot with a slotted spoon and set it aside on a plate.
Add the carrots, celery, onion, and fennel to remaining oil in the pot, distributing evenly across the bottom. Allow vegetables to stay in contact with the pot without stirring until it begins to brown (but not burn), about 4-5 minutes. This allows the flavors to caramelize and will add richness to your soup.
Stir in garlic, cooking just until the garlic is fragrant. If you cook it for more than about 30 seconds, the garlic can burn and become bitter.
Add chicken stock to fill pot about half way, scraping the bottom of the pan as you do to lift all of the flavors that have caramelized there.
Add mushrooms, lemon juice and a few teaspoons of thyme.
Return chicken to the pan, pouring any juices that have collected on the plate into the soup, as well.
Bring soup to a boil, and add the noodles.
Return to a boil and cook until noodles are el dente – about 6 to 7 minutes.
Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.
That’s the chicken soup I made today, but mine is never the same twice. I just used what I had available in my refrigerator. The good thing about chicken soup is that you can change it to suit your own tastes. Change the thyme for rosemary. Add different seasonal vegetables like zucchini or green beans. Add rice instead of egg noodles. Once you can make a basic chicken soup, the possibilities are endless to make your own love in a bowl.
It’s been a little blustery here in the Pacific Northwest the past several days. Weather like this makes me want to cook comforting foods that warm the belly. I am also in possession of my last CSA box, which contains beautiful organic leeks and potatoes.
It’s amazing and wonderful the earth gives us warmer, heavier foods as the weather changes. I started in spring with scapes and baby lettuce that made light spring and summer dishes, and have progressed through the season to these wonderful fall delights. Local, seasonal vegetables add variety to the menu, encouraging you to make the most of them as the earth offers them up.
The cold weather and the vegetables are telling me – it’s time to warm things up. While I’ll miss the gorgeous juicy tomatoes, I’m pretty happy with the potatoes and leeks, too. After all, on a blustery fall day when faced with a box of organic, fresh potatoes and leeks, what else is there to make but potato leek soup?
The good news about potato leek soup is it doesn’t have to be difficult. I think all told with my vegetable chopping prep and 20 minutes of simmering on the stove, this recipe took me 30 minutes. My version is minimalist and rustic, allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves.
When cooking with leeks, you need to clean them well because dirt gets trapped between the layers. To clean, chop the leeks and place them in a bowl of cold water. Swirl the leeks around in the water and then empty into a colander. Repeat this two to three times to remove all of the dirt. Allow the leeks to drain in a colander while you chop your potatoes.
Easy Potato Leek Soup
1/2 pound of bacon, chopped
4 leeks, chopped, including green parts
1/4 c. flour (sweet rice flour for gluten-free)
4-5 potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1″ pieces (any work – but I especially love Yukon golds)
6 c. gluten-free chicken stock
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
Cook bacon in a large dutch oven until crisp. Remove bacon from oil with a slotted spoon and set to drain on paper towel.
Add leeks to bacon grease and saute until they begin to soften, about five minutes.
Add flour and stir to combine, cooking for about two minutes to remove raw flour flavor.
Stir in chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove all browned bits.
Add potatoes and bring to a simmer.
Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, until potato softens.
Remove from heat and process about half of the soup in a blender, leaving the other half chunky. Add pureed soup back to pot and stir to combine. Alternatively, you can puree all of the soup for a smoother preparation.
Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve topped with crisped bacon and chopped chives.
This is great with a nice salad and a crusty bread.
Note: When you puree hot soup in a blender, be really careful. I once saw my mother spray lentil soup from a food processor all over the kitchen ceiling. This can happen because the pressure of steam builds up during pureeing if you don’t allow it to escape. When pureeing hot soup in a blender or food processor, place a folded towel over your hand to protect it, and allow steam to escape every few seconds.
As we move towards fall, it’s the perfect time to incorporate soups and stews into your rotation. Many delicious seasonal vegetables are available throughout the fall that you can toss into a hearty soup or braise.
One of the things I really like about soups and stews is they are never the same twice. In fact, you can use pretty much whatever you have on hand to create something unique and flavorful. I don’t really follow recipes to create soups and stews, but I do utilize certain techniques to layer flavors and bring out the best in my ingredients.
Techniques – Soup & Stews
Creating soups and stews is pretty easy. In this case, a stew is merely a thickened soup with bigger chunks of vegetables and heartier chunks of meat. Here are some basic techniques.
Start by sauteing your protein in a little bit of olive oil using the pot in which you will be cooking your soup or stew. Season the protein with salt and black pepper, and then place in preheated olive oil. You can use chicken, beef, turkey, Italian sausage, bacon, pancetta, hamburger, or other meats you might enjoy in a soup. Remove the protein from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Build your flavor base with aromatic vegetables. I almost always use mirepoix, which is merely a dice of two parts onion to one part carrots and celery.
Saute the mirepoix. If you are going to add garlic, do so in the last 30 seconds to a minute before you begin adding other ingredients.
If you are making a stew or braise, add about 1/4 cup of flour to the vegetables and oil. Stir for a few moments to remove the raw flour flavor.
Add liquid. I prefer adding chicken, vegetable, or beef stock. In stews, I add about a cup of wine before adding the stock, and I stir to thicken it. Then I add the stock. You can make your own stock or purchase store bought; however, if you are using beef stock I recommend making your own. If I do use store-bought stock, I prefer aseptic packaging.
Add meat back into the pot, along with any vegetables you’d like to include such as mushrooms, squash, potato chunks, beans, peas, zucchini, etc. Sometimes I also add canned tomatoes or canned kidney beans.
Add herbs like thyme, parsley, or sage and a little cracked pepper. For some heat, add a dash of cayenne or red pepper flakes. A little goes a long way.
Simmer until vegetables are tender and meat is completely cooked.
Taste for seasoning and adjust.
Tips for Building Flavor
Fresh and seasonal ingredients taste better than canned, boxed, or jarred. Whenever possible, build your meals around fresh ingredients that are in season where you live.
Purchase the best ingredients you can afford.
Opt for fresh garlic and onions rather than dried or powdered.
When you cook garlic, it is done as soon as it becomes fragrant. Overcooking or using too high of heat can make it bitter.
Dried herbs tend to be more potent than fresh herbs, but both impart great flavor.
A little bit of salt brings out flavors. Don’t skip it.
Other than seasoning your protein before you cook it, don’t season until the end of cooking. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
As you saute your meat, when you first place it in the pan, leave it in contact with the pan for several minutes before you move it in order to develop flavorful caramelization. Once the protein browns (after about 4-5 minutes), turn it and do the same thing.
Avoid overcrowding the pan with meat, because it will prevent caramelization.
Do the same thing with your mirepoix. Leave it in contact with the pan for 3-4 minutes to develop caramelization before you stir the vegetables.
Add even more flavor by adding a tablespoon or two of tomato paste to the cooked vegetables and allowing to saute for 4-5 minutes. This develops a deep, rich, brown flavor.
When you add the flour to the oil and vegetables, allow it to get a little bit of color. A slight golden color to your roux (the combination of flour and oil) will add tons of flavor.
When you first add your liquid, use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, which has huge flavor payoff. This is called deglazing.
If you are making an Italian soup or stew, simmer a little Parmesan rind in with the soup and remove before serving.
Tips for Making Your Own Stock
Making stock is not difficult. Simmer protein (such as chicken), herbs and vegetables in water for a long period in order to extract as much flavor as possible. Remove solids. Some tips:
When I chop and peel veggies, I place the trimmings in a ziploc bag and toss it in the freezer. Then I use those trimmings to make the stock.
Since I am going to be removing all solids anyway, I don’t really chop my vegetables. Instead, I cut onions in quarters, cut carrots in half, and toss celery in whole. I also add whole fresh herbs and peppercorns. For your flavor base, make sure you use two parts onion to one part each celery and carrot. Whatever else you toss in there is up to you.
For seafood stock, you can add things like shrimp shells, which have a lot of flavor and will be filtered out anyway.
Since you’re pulling the flavor out of the meat and into the stock, it’s best not to reuse any meat after you pull it out of stock. It’s pretty flavorless. Because of this, you can buy meat you wouldn’t normally put in a finished dish – like chicken necks or beef bones.
I simmer my stock for 2-3 hours. It’s not the classical 8-hour way of cooking it, but for homemade soup, it’s fine.
You may have heard that you need to never boil stock and constantly skim it. This is pretty time consuming. For most soups and stews, you can skip this and just pour the finished product through some cheesecloth to remove the worst impurities.
Avoid salting stock if it is going into something else. Instead, make it without salt and then season your final dish.
For an even more flavorful stock, roast your bones and meat first.