Caramelizing Onions (Slice, Cry, Stir, Stir, Stir)

Aldi had 3 lb bags of vidalia onions for 79 cents. I bought three and caramelized 2 1/2 of them. 

This is my work station…

I use a mandolin, but I’ve done it with a knife too. I’ve done it with a food processor, but I like my slices more controlled than it makes them. 

This is my bowl full of peels for the compost pile…

This is my face in agony…

It was awful. I lit candles. I chewed gum.  Like three pieces. That helped a little. 

I filled a pot…

I divided the pot…

All it takes is about 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and tons of onions and some salt. I used kosher. And time. Like an hour… after you slice them all. 

Cook stirring frequently on medium high until they’re soft and starting to brown. (About 20 minutes)

Reduce heat to medium. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar to each batch and stir almost continuously for 30-40 minutes (yep) until onions reduce to a jam like consistency (and your face has an onion facial.)

After this point I was able to put it in one pot to get dark. An enameled Dutch oven promotes browning better than nonstick and a light pan helps you judge color better than a dark pan. 

Jam like…

Made 3 cups. That’s a lot of work for such a tiny yield, but this keeps in a fridge a long time. 

I use my onions on hot dogs and sausages. 

I add a good amount to broth for instant French onion soup. I stir it into my mixture for quiche for the BEST quiche you’ve ever had. 

How about you?  What’s a labor intensive recipe you make that’s totally worth it?

Way Better than Progresso: Chicken Noodle Soup

I have a special place in my heart for canned soup.  But since I’ve been cooking from scratch more often, my preservative tolerance is lower.  Canned soups now taste so salty… because they are, unfortunately.  I’ve been perfecting my chicken noodle recipe over the years and I think I’ve got it just right now.

First… the chicken.  I use a boneless skinless thigh.  Just one to make 4 servings.  My husband and I each eat two bowls, so if you are only serving this soup, make more for more people.  Thighs render great tasty drippings for cooking your vegetables and boneless and skinless is so convenient.  Bonus, they’re typically cheaper than breasts.


Next the vegetables.  Mirepoix, which is fancy and French for onion, celery, carrot.  (We read a lot of Fancy Nancy in our house.)  I’m using ¼ of a large yellow onion that I slice pole to pole, 1 large carrot (though sometimes I like more) sliced, and 2 stalks of celery chopped small.


Broth – I use homemade almost always.  Actually, I wait to make soup until I have homemade broth usually.  Sometimes I want soup, but I don’t have broth so I plan to roast a whole chicken… for the broth and less for the meat.


Noodles – Stumbled on using rotini instead of egg noodles.  We love egg noodles, but with rotini I can cook them al dente (by 3 minutes undercooking, and by the time I stir back in the chicken and seasonings and serve, it’s perfect and what’s left in the pot doesn’t overcook.  Plus the starch gives a great natural thicker mouth feel to the soup.  I’m using 6 oz (1/2 the bag) to only 4 cups of broth, so our chicken noodle soup is heavy on the noodles, like my husband likes.  It’s almost more a pasta in chicken sauce than a soup.


Flavoring – I want the balance of flavor the 5Ss bring in almost everything I make.  Sweet – ½ t sugar, Salty – I salt the chicken thigh before browning, I salt the vegetables as they cook down, and I salt again when I taste.  Sour – I add about 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice when the noodles cook.  Spice – Louisiana hot sauce, just a few dashes.  Savory – Granulated garlic in the last 10 seconds of cooking the vegetables before adding in my broth.

Herbs – Fresh parsley is so pretty mixed in and sprinkled on top for garnish.  I also use celery leaves too.  Waste-free kitchen.



Happy Soup Season!




I first learned the 5 Ss from an article explaining the necessary components of any marinade.  Sweet, Salty, Sour, Spicy and Savory mixed with a fat makes a marinade.  You can make endless marinades by mixing up things you like in each of the 5 Ss.  But these 5 are also the backbone to balancing anything you cook.  Soup or stir fry or marinara or dip or almost anything you cook will taste better if you have all 5Ss.

1. Sweet – sugars, honey, molasses, syrup.



2. Salty – salt, soy sauce, fish sauce, etc.


3. Sour (Acid) – citrus or vinegar or wine


4. Spicy – pepper, chilies, red chili flake, hot sauce, cayenne, chili powder


5. Savory – Almost any form of garlic (minced fresh, granulated or powdered) or sometimes ginger or onion can count.

Once I learned the 5 Ss, I saw them everywhere.

For instance, spaghetti sauce usually has of course tomatoes (which are fruit and are sweet as well as acidic, sour) and salt and garlic and some spice, usually red pepper flake. If my own tastes flat I add red wine vinegar (sour) and up to a teaspoon of sugar. Sugar is an underused seasoning by the American home cook. I really learned to use it in Thai cooking, thank you Nancie McDermott for writing Quick and Easy Thai. Thai food is often sweetened with palm sugar, but brown sugar substitutes well.  When you use fish sauce you almost always add sugar to balance.  When you eat Thai and everything tastes crazy good while be balanced, it’s because Thai food has mastered sour, spice, sweet, savory and salt.

Sugar is in all our prepackaged meals for a reason, it makes things taste better, though food companies use crazy amounts and now everyone is diabetic. Why not use a little in your homemade things for taste with more restraint than big food business demonstrates.

Almost any of your favorite recipes you’ll find a balance of the 5Ss.  Salsa: Tomato (sweet and acid), salt, lime juice (sour), chili peppers (spice), garlic and onion (savory).  A BLT: tomato (sweet and sour), bacon (salt and spice and savory all in one).  This will blow your mind when you start to look at ingredients on your condiments…

Barbecue Sauce: Corn syrup and molasses (sweet), Vinegar and pineapple juice (sour), sodium benzoate and salt (salt), Jalapeno Pepper (spicy), garlic (savory)
Hoisin Sauce: Sugar (sweet), Salt, Garlic (savory), chili peppers(spicy), Acetic acid (sour)

Sweet Chili Sauce: Sugar (sweet), Red Chilli [sic] (spicy), Vinegar (sour), Garlic (savory), Salt
Remember, when you use these 5 ingredients with almost any fat it can be a marinade.  img_6347

Use them with extra virgin olive oil and make it a vinaigrette. When you have stock of the fab 5 in variety you never need to buy dressing or marinade again.  Even many of your condiments can be homemade.

When your vinaigrette needs an emulsifier, grab a teaspoon of mayonnaise or mustard.



I don’t know if this will be as enlightening to you as it was to me, maybe most people know this or at least know it in their gut (nice pun!), but it has made me a better cook for sure.


Vegetable Summer Rolls and Peanut Sauce

img_6096No stove required!  This may be the perfect summer dish, but I make these all year long.

The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook by Jaden Hair taught me the proper way to soften the rice paper and Anna Langbein’s cooking show on PBS is where I learned this simple method of making peanut sauce.  I only need a cutting board, a knife, an electric tea kettle and a pie plate to make these restaurant-pretty all-vegetable fresh summer rolls. They don’t have to be all vegetable, add chicken or pork by all means.  In the Steamy Kitchen, Jaden Hair has a great recipe for lemongrass pork that is awesome in these, but we most often just do vegetables and don’t miss the meat.

1. Gather ingredients…

I use a bell pepper, green leaf lettuce, a hot house cucumber, carrots, cilantro, crunchy peanut butter (or creamy and chopped dry roasted peanuts), and sweet chili sauce.

2. Chop your vegetables and start your tea kettle to boil.

3. Once your water is boiling, make your peanut sauce.  Mix almost equal parts crunchy peanut butter, sweet chili sauce, and boiling water.  About 1/4 or 1/3 cup each.  I add a little more peanut butter than chili sauce, but it’s by your taste.  Stir together then set aside.  The boiling water makes the mixture look awful, but it will smooth out while you stir and then while it sits.

4. Soften the spring roll wrappers.  Pour more hot water into your pie plate.  It should be hot or warm but not boiling.  You’re putting your fingers in it, DON’T BURN YOURSELF!  Working one roll at a time, place a round in the warm water and hold it down with your fingers, then turn it and submerge again, then pull it out.  It will still be stiff, but it becomes more pliable as you load it.

5. Load and roll.  Place a lettuce leaf (usually just the tops of the lettuce and let it come out the top, makes it pretty), carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and cilantro and roll from the bottom up.  Place each roll on a plate as you make it.  Don’t let them touch or they will stick.

6. Serve with small dishes of your peanut sauce.

Click here for the recipe card.


Let me know if you try these!

Right under your nose

New recipes saturate today’s home cook. Pinterest, food blogs and recipe websites have given me access to endless things to cook. But a 7 day week limits how many meals I can make. Choices must be made and I can either make an old favorite or take a chance and the extra prep time to make something new. 

I’ve also been burned (not literally) by making recipes found online that haven’t been tested like a published cookbook often has. 

I was in the mood to cook things I hadn’t before and I wanted to go to trusted sources. 

I am on a cookbook adventure through my books I cook from all the time, but I’m specifically seeking the recipes I’ve overlooked. 

This is a blast. Like serial reading all of the books by a favorite author. 

I can’t wait to make these wonderful sounding recipes that have been right under my nose. 

When I’ve got meals in mind I stick them like amendments on my meal plan note with the page number in parentheses. 

How about you?  Do you find yourself making just a few recipes from your cookbook collection?  

Tortilla soup

Nearly 20 years ago Mom and Dad were watching a morning news show and a guest chef made Tortilla Soup.  It was a labor of love with roasting red peppers so Dad set out to making a flavor-packed soup that was much simpler.  When I was 10 we had this a ton and some batches with multiple jalapenos were inedibly (not a word) spicy.  He didn’t give up and the result is our family’s definitive tortilla soup.

Gather your ingredients…


Chop your onion and four peppers. Roughly chopping is fine. You’ll blend it smooth later.

Cook your chicken.  Just salt and pepper, or add a little Tony Chachere’s.  Yum.


Remove the chicken and set aside.  Add a little more oil then your onions and peppers.   Cook until they soften and char.  img_3474

Like this…img_3478

Add the canned tomatoes and RoTel.img_3479

Bring to a boil…


Meanwhile chop your cilantro.  Yes, the whole bunch.  No, you don’t have to worry about the stems, you’re going to blend it and those stems have great flavor too.img_3476

Add chicken stock.  Homemade if you got it.  I’m using bullion ’cause I didn’t.img_3481

Now you have a use for the tiny stale chips at the bottom of the bag…img_3482

You need about two large handfuls of tortilla chips.  It is called tortilla soup.img_3483

Heat it through so the chips soften completely.img_3484

Add the chopped cilantro right at the end.img_3485

If you don’t own a immersion blender you can blend it in batches with a blender and then put the blended soup in a crock pot to keep warm.  We did this for years then bought one of these.  Everyone I know who makes this soup with any regularity has bought an immersion.img_3486


My kids don’t eat any cooked vegetables, but they eat tortilla soup. My daughter had thirds.


The usual serving is putting rice in your bowl, top with soup and chips and some chicken.   It is spicy, so rice helps with the heat.  I sometimes eat it without the chicken for a meatless option.


The soup without toppings is only 88 calories a serving. And is loaded with vitamin C.

Mom and Dad still make it.  My brothers both make it (or their wives do), I make it, my husband’s sister makes it weekly and uses rotisserie chicken in hers.  Everyone makes it a little differently.  One of my brothers doesn’t add the onion and it still tastes good.  You can tailor it mild or spicier (just switch your ro-tel), I think it’s gluten free or could be and it can be made vegan so easily (vegetable stock… no chicken).

So many times we’ve served it, though, and people ask, “Where’s the cheese.”


You can’t put ketchup on a hot dog in Chicago.  They have signs.  If you make it yourself and put cheese on it, you can do so in the privacy of your own home, but if you tell us you top yours with cheese we won’t think less of you, but we will think less of your palate.

My aunt tops hers with sour cream.  I’ve tried it.  Not bad, but for me it’s a little like putting ranch on your pizza.  It tastes like ranch and not pizza.  (So sorry.  I’m showing my inner food snob.)

My added touch to this recipe is using a little less chicken stock than Dad’s, and if I have it, I squeeze half a lime into the soup when it’s done.

Here’s the tortilla soup printable recipe card

tortilla soup

I hope you make it someday and I hope you love it and I hope you don’t add cheese.


You may also enjoy…

Sausage and Apples

My friend Sarah is from a great family.  The cousins are all so close you’d think they’re siblings, or best friends.  Which they are.  Her mom’s family is from the Ozarks.  Several generations back I believe.  I don’t know much about the region, but I think it’s a little bit German and a lot pioneer.  Living on the land kind of cuisine.

Sarah’s favorite food is “Sausage and Apples.”  I had never heard of it.  When someone you care about has never experienced something you care about, don’t you just want to bring the two together?  She invited my brother and I over for family dinner serving “Sausage and Apples” one night.  I thought we were going to eat two things… apples and sausages.  In the middle of the table was a huge serving dish with apples and sausage links that had been cooked together in a skillet as one, seasoned with cinnamon.  It smelled a little like apple butter, which is one of my favorite foods.

I wasn’t used to mixing sweet and savory.  It wasn’t until the last couple years that I learned that cranberry sauce is actually a sauce to be eaten on your turkey, not as a side dish.  I didn’t even dip chicken fingers in honey mustard.  There was a great divide in my mind between things that are sweet (dessert) and things that are savory (dinner).  Sausage and Apples was the gateway for me to the great beyond that is complex flavors.

I’ve only made sausage and apples a few times myself.  I didn’t ask for a recipe, so I kinda just fry apples like you’re making “fried apples” and add sausage to it.  It’s delicious every time.


A few things came together for me to make it today.

  1. We bought good Wisconsin bratwurst from Menards and only needed 3 of the 5 in a package (2 leftover brats)
  2. We went to an apple orchard and had some Granny Smiths in the fridge
  3. We also bought cider at the orchard.

This was actually a meal that came from the “what do I have that I need to use up,” place.  The homebody “living on the land” way.  This meal is so good though that it deserves a trip for cider and apples and sausages if they’re not in your fridge.  (Funny enough, Sarah is now vegan.  Don’t cry for her loss of her favorite food though.  I texted her and sure enough, she’s found a way to make this vegan.)

Our words exactly…


Because my recipe is not the “real thing” but a copycat in my mind, I am not titling it true Sausage and Apples, but Fried Apples and Sausages.  The recipe…

Fried apples and sausage

What about you?  What meal opened up your world to flavors you may have never mixed?  Let me know if you try it.