creamy tomato basil bisque with grilled cheese croutons


I know I’ve been sharing mostly tomato recipes for the last two months, but we made this tonight, and it was so good I felt it needed to be shared as soon as humanly possible.  The soup in the pot hasn’t finished cooling down yet.  This bisque is rustic and homey and delicious; and the grilled cheese “croutons” won’t stay crunchy for long, but you won’t care because they’re buttery and cheese-y and awesome.  If the soup is too chunky for you after a few whirls in the food processor, you can strain it through a fine mesh strainer back into the pot – we liked the thicker texture, so we decided to skip that step.  Yum.

Creamy Tomato Basil Bisque
with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Yields 4 servings


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped (about 1 small onion)
1/2 cup carrots, chopped (about 1 to 2 carrots)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 28-ounce cans fire roasted tomatoes (like Muir Glen Organic)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon basil, dried
1/2 teaspoon oregano, dried
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup half and half
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade cut, for garnish

8 slices wheat bread
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (we used Milton Creamery Prairie Breeze)


  1. Heat oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat.  Add onion and carrot and cook for about 7 to 8 minutes, add garlic, then cook an additional minute or two.
  2. Add tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, dried basil, oregano, bay leaf, and stock.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. While bisque simmers, heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Butter one side of the bread slices and place 1/4 cup cheese between each pair of slices (4 sets total).  Place two sandwiches buttered side down in skillet, cook until browned, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook until browned on second side.  Repeat with remaining two sandwiches.  Remove grilled cheese sandwiches from heat, cut each into approximately 1 inch pieces.
  4. Remove soup from heat and remove bay leaf.  In batches, purée soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pot and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the half and half.  Season soup with salt and pepper.  Add grilled cheese croutons (1 sandwich worth of croutons per person), garnish with basil, and serve.

jalapeño. popper. dip.

I’ve been making this dip for almost three years now, and I figured that it was high time to share it.  I was inspired to find a popper dip recipe after seeing someone serve a similar, but very unfortunate version (broken and greasy, yuck) at a work food day.  This dip is miles away from that first one – it is creamy and spicy, with a nice topping that gets crunchy under the broiler at the end.  It is a really easy and delicious way to enjoy jalapeño popper flavor without the hassle of stuffing peppers.  Feel free to reduce the amount of jalapeño if you are sensitive to heat.  Alternately, if you think you can handle even more heat, leave some of the seeds and membranes in the jalapeños.

Jalapeño Popper Dip

Yields about 4 to 6 servings


8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream (light)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (light)
1/2 can chopped green chiles, drained
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
1/4 cup Romano cheese, grated
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Combine first five ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth.
  3. Scoop mixture into a small oven-safe dish.
  4. Combine the Romano cheese and bread crumbs and sprinkle over dish.
  5. Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes.
  6. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.
  7. Serve with tortilla chips, crackers, bread, or pita chips.



The garden tomato harvest is officially over for this year.  There is still one more farmers’ market left this season, which means there is likely only one more opportunity to get excellent fresh tomatoes.  In honor of the last tomatoes of the season and the cooler weather we’ve been experiencing as the days shorten and fall settles in, I thought I would share the chili recipe my SO and I have been working on since we started dating.

This recipe is more of a template, as we have been known to switch up ingredients from time to time (sometimes we swap out the green pepper for a poblano pepper, for example).  The chipotle pepper in adobo was a new addition to our most recent chili iteration, and we liked it so much, we are recording it for posterity.  The seasonings can be adjusted to your taste – we often add a little bit more chili powder, cumin, paprika, and/or salt just before serving if we think it needs a little extra kick.


Yields 8 to 10 servings


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, diced
8 to 9 tomatoes, skins removed, chopped (or 3 cans diced tomatoes, fire-roasted if possible)
2 cans spicy chili beans (like Mrs. Grimes)

2 cups water
2 cups beef stock
1 pound beef stew meat
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
2 1/2 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Optional accompaniments

sour cream
cheddar cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place stew meat and beef stock in a small roasting pan, cover, and roast in oven for about 40 minutes (to tenderize the beef).
  2. In a large skillet on medium-high heat, brown the ground beef until no pink remains, about 10 to 12 minutes, and drain.  Set aside.
  3. While stew meat is roasting, heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat.  Add onion and green pepper and saute until tender, around 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes, chipotle pepper, water, ground beef, beans, and all of the spices (last eight ingredients) and stir to combine.  When the stew meat is browned and tender, add it and the beef stock it was cooked in to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes (we usually let it go for about an hour).  When the chili is almost done, taste and adjust seasonings as you like.
  5. Serve with cheddar cheese, sour cream, and crackers.

homemade crushed tomatoes (and a recipe for pork and fennel meatballs with pasta)


We still haven’t had a hard freeze overnight yet this year, so the tomato plants just keep on cranking.  Here is another recipe to help use up the season’s tomato bounty.  I ran across a variation of this recipe for pork and fennel meatballs and thought, “I bet I can make my own crushed tomatoes to substitute for the canned ones.”  After doing some painstaking “research” (Internet searching), I was able to create this fresher-than-canned version.  If it was the dead of winter, I hadn’t frozen any tomatoes over the summer, and I wanted to prepare the accompanying pasta recipe, I wouldn’t hesitate to use quality canned crushed tomatoes.

Crushed Tomatoes

Yields 3-1/2 to 4 cups


approximately 10 to 12 medium tomatoes, or 6 to 8 large tomatoes


  1. Wash tomatoes (cold water).
  2. Heat a large pot water until boiling, then place tomatoes in boiling water for 60 seconds or until the skins split.
  3. Dip tomatoes in cold water until cool enough to handle.  Slip off tomato skins and remove cores.  Quarter tomatoes, trimming away any bruised or discolored parts.
  4. Heat half of the tomato quarters in a large pot quickly using medium-high to high heat.  Crush tomatoes with a wooden spoon as they are added.
  5. When the tomatoes are boiling, gradually add the remaining tomatoes, stirring constantly.  Lower heat to medium or medium-low and cook until tomatoes are softened, about 10 minutes.  If a thicker consistency is desired, strain the liquid from about half of the pot of tomatoes (through a colander over the sink) and return tomatoes to the pot to cook for 2 to 3 additional minutes.
  6. If not using immediately, allow the tomatoes to cool, then pack into containers, then refrigerate (for up to four days) or freeze (for up to four months).

Braised Pork Meatballs with Fennel and Pasta

Yields approximately 4 servings


1 pound ground pork (lean, if possible)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely sliced
1 small fennel bulb (or 1/2 regular sized bulb), trimmed and finely shaved
1/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon fennel seed, ground
3-1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (or one 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes)
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3/4 pound pasta, any shape
1 to 2 tablespoons Romano cheese


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Combine the pork, garlic and fennel seeds in a bowl and season with salt and red pepper flakes.  Form approximately fourteen (14) 2-inch round meatballs with the mixture.  Place on a tray and transfer to the refrigerator to become firmer, while the sauce is prepared.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven.  Add garlic, onion, and fennel and cook over medium heat until the onions and fennel are tender and starting to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  4. Season with salt and pepper, and add the ground fennel seeds.
  5. Add the white wine to deglaze the pot, and then add the tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover, simmering for about 15 minutes.
  6. In the meantime, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high to high heat.  When the oil is quite hot, brown the meatballs all over, around 2 to 3 minutes per side.
  7. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the browned meatballs into sauce.  Cover sauce lightly, and simmer for another 10 minutes, until the meatballs are very tender.
  8. Serve sauce and meatballs over prepared pasta.  Sprinkle with Romano cheese.

heirloom tomato bruschetta


Here is yet another tomato related recipe!  This is one of the easiest snacks you can make, and I’ve been making it often lately.  If you are fortunate enough to be able to get your hands on heirloom tomatoes, do use them for this.  Heirloom varieties of tomato come in all colors, are exceptionally flavorful, and taste best when you do as little to them as possible (like in this recipe).  The two types of tomatoes included in the bruschetta pictured above are called Golden Girl and Mortgage Lifter.  I’m looking forward to trying it with other heirloom combinations!  If you don’t have any heirloom tomatoes hanging around, this recipe is nearly as delicious when made using any garden or farmers’ market fresh tomatoes.

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta

Yields snack-y goodness (about 1 1/2 cups)


2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves, cut in chiffonade or chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 baguette or rounds of bread
1/4 cup olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut baguette into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices, brush with olive oil, and place in middle rack of oven.  Bake until slices start to brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.  When rounds are done, remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  2. Combine first six ingredients in a small bowl, then spoon mixture onto the rounds.  Sprinkle bruschetta with extra fresh basil or sea salt if desired.

pizza margherita and proscuitto pizza



Since we’re trying to use up some more tomatoes from the garden, here is another recipe that will help (a little).  This is a classic pizza recipe that is wide open for reinterpretations – after we made two of the basic margherita pizzas, we decided to make them again the next week, but added prosciutto and portabella mushrooms at the same time we added the mozzarella, and left off the basil oil (see the picture, below).  Both versions were delicious.

The dough that goes along with this pizza takes some time to make – if it is too much, feel free to use a faster, easier dough.   The below dough recipe makes enough for four pizzas, which I found was easier to mix in the stand mixer than dough for two pizzas.  You can always freeze the other two pieces of dough for later pizza making fun, or just double all of the other ingredients and make four pizzas.


Pizza Margherita

Yields 2 pizzas (10 to 11 inches each)

Adapted from Sunset Magazine


1 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Pizza dough
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium fresh tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
1 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil

Basil oil
1/2 cup lightly packed basil leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil


  1. In a small bowl (or liquid measuring cup), whisk together 1 cup room temperature water and yeast, and let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, mix 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and the yeast mixture on medium speed, until ingredients are well incorporated, scraping bowl sides as needed.  Then, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and allow dough to mix for another 30 minutes.  Dough will be smooth and elastic after time has elapsed.
  3. While dough is mixing, prepare tomato sauce.  In a medium-sized pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until the oil is hot (but not smoking).  Add the garlic and cook for about 15 seconds, then stir in the tomatoes and simmer uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. While the sauce is cooking, place the basil oil ingredients in a food processor and process until the basil is finely chopped.  Stir 1 tablespoon of the basil oil and a pinch of salt into the tomato sauce as it’s cooking.  Set aside remaining basil oil.
  5. Once the tomato sauce is finished simmering, remove it to a small bowl and set aside to cool.
  6. When dough is finished mixing, divide it into 4 portions.  Place 2 portions (lightly floured) into a freezer bag and freeze (for up to 2 months).  Roll the remaining 2 portions of dough into balls.  Place the dough balls on a lightly floured baking sheet, then dust the tops with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Allow the dough to rise for at least 1 hour.
  7. When the dough is halfway through it’s rise time (30 minutes down, 30 to go until cooking), place a pizza stone on the bottom shelf of the oven (adjusted to the lowest possible height) and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
  8. When the dough has risen, work with one ball at a time, stretch the ball into an approximately 10 to 11 inch circle-ish shape, by lifting it up and turning it like a steering wheel.  Once the dough is stretched, set it on a pizza peel or baking sheet that has a light coating of cornmeal.
  9. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of the tomato sauce onto the dough, while leaving about 1/2 inch border un-sauced.
  10. Transfer the pizza from the peel to the pizza stone in the oven and bake for 3 to 5 minutes, until the crust has cooked a bit.  Remove pizza from the oven and top with mozzarella and oregano, then return it to the oven to cook for an additional 2 to 4 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
  11. Remove pizza from the oven, drizzle with remaining basil oil, slice, and serve!

black bean and corn salsa

salsa 2

As promised, here is another recipe that will help you use up some tomatoes. Yes, it is another salsa recipe; but it’s a really good one, and you owe it to yourself to try it.  It’s also not at all spicy, so if heat is an issue for you, this is a great recipe for you.

This recipe will only help you use up one or two tomatoes, but if you are dealing with a tremendous tomato surplus like I am right now, you know every little bit helps.  I honestly have no idea which one of my mother’s many cookbooks (like I have any room to talk!) this recipe came from originally.  What I do know is that this salsa has become wildly popular in my family – so much so that for one gathering, no fewer than three of us prepared it to share with the others.  While we may need to work on our communication skills, we all clearly agree that this recipe is worth sharing.

For the corn, I use fresh Iowa sweet corn, cut from the cob and blanched.  If I have extra, I usually freeze it at this point and save it for off-season salsa binges (when decent tomatoes are also available).

Black Bean and Corn Salsa with Lime Cilantro Dressing

Yields 4 cups


2 1/2 cups fresh corn, blanched, drained and cooled (or frozen corn, thawed)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 to 2 medium tomatoes
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped


  1. Combine corn and beans in a large bowl.
  2. In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook cumin and oregano in oil for approximately 2 minutes.  Pour over corn mixture and stir to coat evenly.
  3. Add the tomato and onion to the bowl and stir to combine.
  4. In a small bowl (or your liquid measuring cup after you’ve measured the juice), whisk together the lime juice, mustard, garlic, and salt.  Stir in cilantro, then pour the dressing over the mixture in the large bowl.  Stir to coat.
  5. Serve with tortilla chips.  Leftovers may be refrigerated.