Roasted Tomato & Basil Soup

ingredientsI don’t often share recipes. Its not that I am hoarding my kitchen secrets – its that I don’t often make the same meal twice so putting on paper what I actually made is a challenge for me. But this particular kitchen gem is a healthy, hearty soup that I make a version of once or twice a year in a BIG batch to freeze. I like having homemade meals on hand for my family but I also like having nutritious and delicious meals I can bring to friends and family if they are in need. With all the tomatoes and carrots in this soup, it’s exploding with vitamin C so I often bring it to those nursing a cold or flu. Nothing says I love you like home cooking!

You can use fresh ripe roma tomatoes for this recipe but I find that cost prohibitive for my family. Instead I used two 2.89kg cans of whole, peeled roma tomatoes. I found them at Costco for $1.98 a can. Drain the can but reserve that beautiful red liquid to later add to your soup. Place the whole tomatoes on a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and season ingredients3liberally with salt and pepper. Add a few leaves of fresh basil to roast with the tomatoes. Roast for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. You will know its done by the smell, its a sweet tomato aroma in the air. You will also see the tomatoes caramelizing slightly. You can cut the tomatoes lengthwise to help the process but it’s a step I skip. Be careful of the steam when you open your oven, those little tomatoes hold a lot of liquid and it has to go somewhere! For this very large batch I used 2 of these giant cans and roasted 2 pans simultaneously, rotating once half way through the cooking process.

ingredients2While roasting, heat a few tablespoons of butter in a large stock pot and sweat out 4 large sweet onions, coarsely chopped. Add about 6 large and slightly crushed cloves of garlic and let them get to know the onions for about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper and wait until the onions are clear and lovely but do not caramelize. Add in your chicken stock (you can use veggie if that’s your preference). I make my own stock and freeze it. By using leftover chicken or turkey bones and by freezing onion, celery and carrot scraps I can make stock for literally nothing. I can control salt and eliminate preservatives. But if this isn’t your thing, stock from a carton works just fine. I used about 3 litres of stock. Bring stock and onions to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Add in your carrots. I used two 1lb bags ($0.98 each). I cut off the ends (added that to my frozen scraps bag for the next time I make stock) and coarsely chopped. I washed them very well and did not peel them but you certainly can. I think I am getting lazy in my old age 😉

Add 4 large bay leaves and simmer over medium heat. Once your tomatoes are beautifully roasted they can be added to your pot. Simmer for about a half an hour, remove bay leaves, add the liquid from your canned tomatoes and add a robust handful of fresh, coarsely chopped basil. Simmer for an hour or so, it really isn’t an exact science. Next introduce your immersion blender to your simmering concoction. Show it no mercy as you blend all the coarse pieces into soupy submission. The texture is really up to you. I prefer a rustic texture but ingredients4others want it silky smooth so blend according to your preference. Add salt and pepper to taste. This time around I wasn’t as happy with the overall sweetness of the soup, perhaps the carrots were not in prime season when picked. I added a bit more sugar then I have in the past, it was about 6 tbsp. I also added a few tbsp of chilli flakes for some discreet heat. If using store bought stock you may want to add some poultry seasoning and maybe some thyme for a more robust flavor. Keep tasting until you are happy with it. Then add about 2 cups of milk. I had whole on hand so that’s what I used but again, it’s not an exact science.

I made about 7 meals large enough to feed 4 adults. If you are making a batch this size you will also need at least a 14litre stock pot, a few tbsp of butter, olive oil, salt and pepper, a few tbsp of sugar depending on the freshness, quality and season of your produce. You will also need an immersion blender.ingredients5

As you can see, it cost me about $1.37 to feed four adults a meal portion of this soup. We added some fresh garlic bread and we were all very full. You could easily have this with a salad or grilled cheese and be very full or you could use it as a side dish or an appetizer. Since my in-laws were coming over (don’t kid yourself, I wouldn’t have made this soup today if my kids weren’t with their grandparents!) I garnished the soup with a sprinkle of feta and parmesan cheese topped with a fresh basil leaf. It was delish!

Though its more work to make then a boxed macaroni and cheese, which is about the same price, it is so much tastier and much healthier. And once its in your freezer, you have no excuse!

Canned Tomatoes $1.98 each x 2 = $3.96
1lb bag of Carrots $0.98 x 2 = $1.96
Garlic (half a head) Approximately $0.17
Chicken Stock (free if homemade) Approximately $4.00
Fresh Basil $2.78
4 large onions $0.75
$9.62 with homemade stock or$13.62 with purchased stock
7 Meals for 4 adults $1.37 per meal or $0.34 per portion(With homemade stock)or$1.95 per meal or $0.49 per portion(With purchased stock)
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Skor Trifle

In my husband’s roll as a youth Pastor we have the privilege of serving alongside some incredible, dedicated volunteers. These people give of more than just their time – they truly love these kids and go above and beyond to show them that they matter. They teach their lessons, they join in on the activities and some even attend kids school activities to show support. We are blessed to work with them and God is using them in the lives of students more than they will ever know.

A few times a year we come together as leaders and it’s always something I look forward to. Sometimes its appreciation for their service, other times its team training and equipping. A few days ago we had the chance to start off the year with some fellowship, calendar planning as well as equipping these servants to lead well. We utilized the church facility, spruced our cafe up with a few easy and inexpensive decor pieces and ordered in some delicious BBQ.

My husband wasn’t sure what to do for dessert and I offered to make it. This is something I never do because although I can cook I am not a skilled pastry chef or even dessert diva. I was genuinely nervous it wouldn’t turn out. After all, I was making something I have never made before and, until we all sat together, I hadn’t even tasted it! The verdict? IT WAS A HIT! Some of the ladies asked for the recipe so I will try and remember what I did and share it with all of you. It was very easy so if you are looking for something yummy to bring to a ministry kick-off event or want to bless those you serve with, I recommend you take this!

Skor Trifle

1 Package Chocolate cake mix (or scratch if you prefer)

1 Package Vanilla cake mix (or scratch if you prefer)

1 Tub cool whip (soften in fridge)

2 Packages white chocolate instant pudding

3 Cups milk

1 Cup strong coffee

½ Cup chocolate syrup/sauce

6 or more Skor bars (the more you use the more popular you will be!)

Make both cakes as per box instructions. Let cool and then break up into bite-size pieces.

Make pudding as per box instructions but substitute your cup of coffee for 1 of the necessary cups of milk. Refrigerate.

Crush Skor bars in a plastic bag. I gave my son a toy hammer and let him go to town! DO NOT substitute baking ‘toffee pieces.’ Trust me, its worth it to do the work yourself with the Skor bars!

Layer the bottom of a trifle dish with half of your vanilla cake. Layer pudding mixture, then layer cool whip and follow with a dusting of Skor bar. Next layer chocolate cake and pour over chocolate sauce and top with Skor crumbs. Layer cool whip. Next is more vanilla cake and another layer pudding of mixture. Finally a top layer of cool whip aesthetically sprinkled with Skor. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve and don’t expect left over’s unless you double the recipe, as I did!
Hopefully you have a chance to bless someone in your life with this wonderful treat!

$9 + 1 Crockpot = 4+ Family Meals

I love being a stay-at-home mom, it brings me more joy than I thought possible. But just like anything worth doing, it comes with sacrifice and challenges. For us, a big struggle is staying within our tight budget so I am always looking for ways to cut our grocery bill while providing nutritious and delicious food for my family. So this morning as I was contemplating the day’s meals, inspiration struck! On Facebook two family members posted unrelated things that turned into magic on our plates and in our wallets!

First was a post about our current weather. I know most people think it rains 12 months out of the year in Vancouver. Well, it doesn’t. It rains for about 9 months, pausing for June, July and August heat waves, and then back to more grey skies and precipitation come September. (Personally, unless I am by the beach or lounging poolside, the heat is not my favorite and I genuinely prefer a rainy afternoon).

To try and keep our little apartment home as comfortable as possible, I avoid turning on the stove or oven. This is difficult for me because I LOVE to cook and I feel limited and bored with what I can do on the BBQ after 3 months of oven-avoidance.

The second post was from my sister-in-law looking for Crockpot ideas and one of her friends posted about a whole chicken in the crock pot. GENIUS! I had never thought to do that before. To be honest, for all my joy of cooking, I have never cooked a whole chicken before. I get kinda grossed out at the thought of the insides – even if they are in a ready-to-toss baggie. But, against all odds, I had purchased said slimy whole chicken and put in the freezer a few weeks ago.

That’s when the magic happened. Could I put the whole, frozen chicken into a Crockpot thus avoiding the melting heat of my oven and enjoy a delicious family meal? Could it be that easy?

Ladies and gentlemen (well, probably mostly ladies but if gentlemen are reading this, welcome here!)

IT WAS THAT EASY! And not only was dinner fantastic but I have enough leftovers for chicken and egg salad pitas for lunch tomorrow and chicken and cheese quesadillas for dinner. If that wasn’t enough. I am currently brewing up some homemade broth that I will use for multiple dishes in the fall.

Here is what I did. I don’t follow recipes myself, which explains why I can cook but not bake, so I call this a recipe(ish). I know this is a long post but if you want to use one dish to make at least 4 family meals for about $9.00, its worth the read!

Tonight’s Dinner – Rotisserie Style Crockpot Chicken

I had a frozen whole chicken on hand but fresh would work the same, just adjust cooking time.

Before I froze my chicken I took out the bag of innards. It was well sealed and didn’t give me the yuck factor I had imagined. Since I am nowhere near brave enough to cook that up, I threw it away. (If you have a feline friend I think cooking the contents of that bag for them would make you very popular). I also cleaned and dried the chicken before sealing into a freezer bag and popping it into the freezer.

I rubbed the outside of the chicken with paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme. I wanted to stuff the cavity but since it was frozen, and I was too impatient to wait until tomorrow to cook it, I decided I would have to break the sacred rules of the slow cooker and open it up a few hours into the cooking process to fill the cavity with moist-making goodness.

Here is the secret to the rotisserie style, wonderfully crispy skin in a Crockpot:

Wipe the inside of the cooker down with oil or spray your favorite non-stick. Ball up a few pieces of tinfoil to lift your chicken up out of the moisture that will drip during the cooking process. This makes for perfectly crispy skin. DO NOT ADD LIQUIDS! Put the top on and set your timer.

Because I was using a frozen bird I set the temp to high to ensure I was able to kill off any salmonella. (It’s probably a good rule of thumb to start any chicken, frozen or not, on high for the first hour or so to get the temperature hot enough to cook safely).

About 2 hours in I opened the Crockpot, something you are usually told to never ever do, and I stuffed my little birdie with onions and an orange with the peel on and sliced in half.  (I would have preferred an apple but I didn’t have any on hand. Dare to experiment!) It was hot but manageable to stuff by using tongs. Back into the Crockpot she went for another 5 hours.

I took it out and the meat was so tender- it literally fell apart while I let it rest. I used latex gloves and did the ‘carving.’ I separated the meat into 3 equal sections – one for dinner and 2 for tomorrow. The bones and skin went back to join the juices in the Crockpot. I discarded the orange from the cavity. We enjoyed this simple but delicious meal with a quick Caesar salad.

COST:

Whole chicken – $5.60

Romaine Lettuce – $0.79

Tomorrows Lunch – Chicken & Egg Salad Pitas

Since I have a few errands tomorrow I decided to make this up tonight so it was ready to go. I had 3 left over hard-boiled eggs in the fridge from a previous meal so my chicken salad became chicken & egg salad. Waste not, want not, right? I shredded the meat with my hands, (so easy when the meat is that tender) added the peeled hard-boiled eggs and mixed it all together. In went about 3 celery stocks and a medium sweet onion, diced. (Sweet onions are about the same price as your normal yellow onion and they are easy to find, at least around here. They make a HUGE difference in your meals and I highly recommend them!) Add about a quarter cup of mayo (I use hellmans light because it makes me feel better about being me) and 2 tbsp of Dijon mustard along with a handful of chopped fresh (or dried) parsley and dill weed. I added a sprinkle of garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. If I wasn’t so full from dinner I would have eaten it all right then and there. Into a container and into the fridge. I took out some whole grain pita pockets from the freezer and tomorrow it will be like when Harry met Sally… only starring chicken salad and a pita pocket…

COST:

Leftover chicken – $0.00

3 Eggs – $0.63

Pitas or bread substitute – $0.65

You don’t have to use Pitas, you could easily put this on bread or a bagel. Just use whatever you have on hand. If you don’t have celery, throw in a bell pepper. The more you can use up what you have already spent money on, the more you will save in the long run.

 

Tomorrows Dinner – Chicken and Cheese Quesadillas

The third and final portion of chicken was also shredded and added to a small diced onion and red bell pepper. I added a touch of salt and pepper and a dash of chili powder. I want my two year old to eat this meal with us so it couldn’t be too spicy. I grated about 2 cups of marble cheese (again, use what you have on hand) and tomorrow I will mix everything with 1 avocado (I put the peeled avocado into a zip lock bag and give it to my son to squish the be-jeebees out of it). I will mix it together until smooth. If it’s not quite smooth enough for me to spread onto the tortilla I will add a touch of Greek yogurt or you could use mayo as a substitute. Not exactly a traditional Mexican recipe but we like it. I use corn tortillas. I purchased a bag on my last grocery trip in Washington and they are SO much cheaper than here in Canada. I got a bag of seventy small corn tortillas for under $4.00 (which is like $0.06 per tortilla or $0.12 per quesadilla!) I just make a sandwich out of the mixture, using the tortillas in place of bread.

Heat up a touch of olive oil (or whatever cooking oil you use) in a non-stick pan and place the quesadillas on the pan. A few minutes per side should make them a bit crispy and the insides warm. You can serve with salsa, sour cream or guacamole.

COST:

Leftover chicken – $0.00

Avocado – $0.40

Cheese – $0.50

Future Meals – Chicken stock

A love of cooking and the use of stocks go hand in hand so I often find myself reaching for a carton of store bought chicken, beef, or vegetable stock. I have decided to make my own and store in the freezer (freeze in muffin tins and then transfer into a storage bag for each ½ cup portions). This gave me the perfect opportunity and since I already dirtied the crock pot I decided to make my stock in there. (You could save up your chicken carcasses and make a big batch when you have more to work with but I decided to go for it with a smaller batch).

I added about 6 cups of COLD water to my Crockpot filled with the leftover chicken bones, fat and skin. I added the aromatics I had on hand (onion, carrot, celery) and a had a few tomatoes that were going to go bad on me so I cut those in half and added those as well. Remember, you are going to suck the life out of these vegetables – not eat them – so cut them roughly and large if at all, leave skin on rather than peeling. I have a bag in my freezer that I add things to as I am chopping produce for other meals – like pieces of onion root, the ends of carrots or leftover leaks. The contents of this bag will eventually go into a stock and make it rich, flavorful and full of depth by using something that would have ended up in the trash, saving money. Add more water if necessary to cover all the bones and veggies. I put the lid on and I plan to let it simmer on low overnight.

In the morning I will to strain the liquid and let it cool in the fridge so I can skim off the fat before placing it in the freezer. Since I know homemade stock is stronger and more flavorful than store-bought, therefore you often need to use less, I am not sure how much I will end up with from this one chicken but I am guessing enough for 2 big soups and a dozen or so ready to grab ½ cup options. Remember that the stock will be darker than the store bought variety. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t have the sodium and chemical preservatives from its tetra-pack cousin, it will also be darker in color because it’s made from a roasted chicken rather than raw chicken left-over’s in the factory.

Well there you have it. I did not expect to do this all today, and I certainly didn’t expect to blog about it but I hope my culinary adventure can bless your budget and your family as it did mine! In the words of my 2-year old:

Thank you God for my food and my many blessings, AMEN!