Paleo-ish Zuppa Toscana (Updated!)

*UPDATE* – Almost 5 years have gone by since I first posted this, and I’ve changed how we cook this soup a bit. It’s one of our very favorites, and a huge hit with guests and such, so I figured it would be worth posting an updated version both for everyone else, as well as for me to reference when I want to share this. *END UPDATE INTRO*

Some background. My wife loves Olive Garden. My wife lurves Olive garden, more like. If someone says the words “Olive” and “Garden” in the same 3 hour period, she simply has to eat there or she’ll catch fire from wanting it so hard. Seriously. You don’t get it yet, but you’re getting closer. And the only thing she eats there is their Zuppa Toscana. And maybe a breadstick…dipped in the soup. She’s obsessed. So anyway, we’ve been wanting to figure out a way to make it at home for a long time (mostly because their gluten free options for me are none, including the soup) so she can enjoy it without me having to pay $16 for a subpar steak. We went to my cousin’s house for board games and his wife made this soup, and it was intensely tasty so I figured we could make it at home as well. She kindly gave me the recipe, which I then proceeded to ignore in a lot of ways. But we’ll get to that later.

So here’s the soup. It’s not all the way technically paleo, unfortunately, because there are non-sweet potatoes in it. But whatever. It’s still delicious and that starch is far outweighed by delicious sausage and bacon. I guess what makes it still sort of paleo is the fact that all the ingredients are organic, humanely raised, etc. So here’s the recipe, as taken from allrecipes.com and modified by me (edited to our current method as of 2017):

Source Recipe: Super Delicious Zuppa Toscana

Our family recipe, which we now call “Work Soup” presented as a double batch because we never make a single batch anymore

  • 1 pound Beeler’s Hot Italian Sausage Links (slit down the side with casings removed)
  • 1 package of Kirkland Signature Thick Cut bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces (1.5 lbs)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 qts of Kirkland Signature Organic Chicken Stock
  • 8-10 small-medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 cups heavy cream or half & half if you don’t have cream
  • 1 bunch of fresh kale with stems removed and torn into bite-sized piece, or a couple handfuls of frozen kale, if you don’t have fresh

You will need to cook this in a large pot, at least 8 qts. We use an 8qt stock pot, and it is full to the brim when we’re done.
(Okay, that’s the end of the update. Everything after this will be the same from a method perspective, but I’ll be talking about different ingredients and amounts because I was making a single batch with a slightly different recipe. use the ingredients and amounts above while following the method below and you’ll come out just fine.)

So…I guess I kinda barely followed this recipe. Whatever. I do what I want.

Okay, so you take the sausage (Beeler’s mild italian links for us) and put it into a Dutch oven (we have a very nice enameled one we got from some friends as a gift) and put that on the stove over medium-high and cook the sausage until it gets crumbly and brown. If you want it spicier, you would also put the crushed red pepper in there with the sausage. We don’t like spicy, so we got mild sausage and didn’t do pepper. So anyway, cook it until it looks like food. I don’t like putting times on these things because I always get burned by thinking “The recipe said this should take 10 minutes and it’s taken 20 but it doesn’t look right. Oh well, guess I should follow the recipe,” and then I pull the thing off the thing and everything is ruined. Don’t do that. Just cook it until it’s done. If your sausage is anything like my sausage (heh) you’ll end up with some smaller crumbly bits and some larger chunks. That’s all well and good. Just get it cooked through. Now drain it (I didn’t drain mine, but some people like to do things the right way) and pour it into a bowl to be used later.

Now, reduce the stove to medium and put in your bacon bits (Niman Ranch or something similar). Cook until they’re brown and crispy. Again, don’t worry about how long it takes, just cook them until they’re right. You’ll be much happier for it. Once your bacon is crispy, toss in your diced onion and minced garlic (Like I know what those words mean, right? Just cut them up into sizes you’d be happy to have in your soup.) and cook until the onions get clear and soft.

Pour in your stock. I got those cartons of organic chicken stock from Costco and used two of them, so I guess that’s like…2 quarts? Sounds about right. Now bring it to a boil over high heat. When you get to a boil, you can back it off to medium high (you could leave it on high, but I always back my stuff off so they don’t boil over) and put in your potatoes, cut into chunks. I sliced mine into like 1/16″ slices because that’s what my box grater thingy has available. It was too thin. Something in the neighborhood of 1/4″ thick is more what you want, and then cut them into quarters or something so you have nice, bite-sized chunks of potato. That’s definitely what I’ll be doing next time. Keep in mind, I used 6 very tiny (Not much bigger than an egg) potatoes for this recipe, and the potato ratio turned out pretty well. If you’re using giant russets, you probably only need like 2-3 at the very most. There’s plenty of sausage and bacon in this soup to keep it rib-sticking without going nuts on potatoes. Now boil those potatoes until they’re cooked through. Just keep stirring every so often and checking them. As long as you keep it at a boil and you have reasonable chunks, it shouldn’t take too long to cook them through.

Now, reduce the heat back to medium, then you add in the cup of heavy cream (I used Organic Valley heavy cream from pastured cows because it’s amazing) and add back in your sausage. Let that work for a while so you can wash and break up your kale. You just pull the leaves off the stems and then tear them into smallish pieces. It shouldn’t take long. I added a little more kale than whatever I think 1/4 bunch is supposed to be (though I take issue with ‘bunch’ as a unit of measure. Bunches be different sizes, homie.) and my soup turned out just fine. It’s also a great way to eat kale, so there’s that. Okay, now your soup is heated through. Add your pieces of kale. I let it sit and soften for a couple minutes, but honestly the longer the soup sat on my stove in the dutch oven, the better it tasted, so you could probably add the kale, take the pot off the heat, and let it sit for about 10 minutes or so, and it would be amazing. That’s what I’ll do next time.

Also, you can top with some shredded parmesan, if you have any available. It’s awesome.

Okay, that’s it. I didn’t take pictures because I never take pictures my first time through a process, lest it turn out to be incredibly embarrassing for me. We both LOVED this soup, though. I was really worried that there would be too much of it for us to finish, but I ate three big bowls last night and brought another bowl to work for lunch today. It will definitely be going into the rotation, and the next time through there will be pictures.

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Finally, my chili recipe

Hey all! Been a very long time since I posted anything here. I get enough requests for recipes that I wanted to put this one in an easy place to share. So here it is! It’s very basic chili, but it’s good an hearty. Goes great over a baked potato, or a pile of mashed sweet potatoes, or a bowl of cauliflower rice.

This recipe scales very well, so I’m going to write it for 1 pound of ground beef but rest assured that you can just multiply it to get it to whatever amount you want to make. The basic recipe originally called for 2 pounds, but I rarely start with less than 4 or 5 anymore.

Basic Paleo Chili

1 lb ground beef

1 tbsp fat (butter, coconut oil or my personal favorite: bacon fat)

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp roasted green chiles, diced

1 can (14.5 oz) crushed or diced tomatoes

1 tsp salt

½ tsp Italian seasonings

1 ½ tsp paprika

2 tsp chili powder

Put the bacon fat into the pot and melt it over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and chiles. Cook until the onions are cooked through, or longer if you want to brown them a little (I usually do). Add the beef and stir. Cook until the beef is brown, or longer to cook off most of the remaining liquid. Add the can of tomatoes and the seasonings, and stir. Turn heat to medium-low. From this point, you’re really just cooking down to your desired level of thickness. I usually simmer at least two hours, but you can cook longer or shorter depending on your preferences.

That’s it! Easy enough to do multiple times a week if you’re us, and it scales beautifully. I’ve made it with as much as 12 pounds of beef (with everything else increased to match) and it works great.
Original recipe here: http://easypeas-y.blogspot.com/2012/04/paleo-chili.html

Pizza Potatoes

Hey all! Haven’t posted here in ages, but I couldn’t go any longer without sharing this recipe. It was adapted from another I found that worked well, but wasn’t quite what I wanted. So I decided to take that general idea and adapt it to be a little faster (something I can make entirely after getting home from work). Here’s what I came up with. Sorry I don’t have any pictures yet. I’ll take some next time I make a batch, and add them in. Enjoy!

Pizza Potatoes

2.5 lbs potatoes, cubed to 1/2″-3/4″

2 tbsp bacon fat

4 oz pepperoni, sliced

16 oz bulk sausage (or link with casings removed)

1 bell pepper, diced

1 medium onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp salt

2 tsp italian seasonings

1 pound shredded mozzarella

24 oz marinara sauce

In non-stick skillet, brown potatoes in bacon fat on medium heat. Move potatoes to 9×13 glass baking dish. Brown sausage and pepperoni for several minutes before adding onion, garlic and red pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add potatoes back to the mix for a few minutes just to get some of the pepperoni juices spread around on them. Add your salt and seasonings. Move everything back to the glass baking dish and stir in the marinara sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese, cover with foil and put into the oven at 350º for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for additional 15 minutes. Allow to cool and serve.

We’ve also added mushrooms and black olives to the mix on some occasions. You can modify this recipe any way you like to match your favorite pizza toppings.

Thanks for reading!

More links, as I chew through my Google Reader backlog

Hey all! Back again, with a lot of great links. Most are from The Paleo Mom, since I hadn’t read her posts in far too long and she always has a ton of great ones. I’ll pull a few from other places, too, and probably see if I can throw a few from my overflowing link bucket into the mix, too. Gotta get these things out there!

The Importance of Fish in Our Diets – I’m still not where I’d like to be with my seafood consumption, but I’m to probably one serving a week. It’s not enough, but it’s moving the right direction, at least.

Artichoke Stuffed Artichoke – This sounds really good! I love artichokes, but never really make them myself. I’d love to start though, since they’re so tasty and give me a good excuse to eat something dippable (I’m like a giant, hairy 4-year old).

Coconut Oil Poached Tilapia – More recipes for cooking fish means more chance I’ll cook fish, right? Seems like a solid plan.

Carbohydrate Recommendations for Kids – This makes a lot of sense to me. Kids need some protein and fat as building blocks for their growing structures, and need plenty of carbohydrate to fuel their activity and growth. I don’t think it makes sense to put a child on a very low carb diet unless they’re already overweight and metabolically broken. As long as they’re healthy and active, just let them eat what they want. I really like the recommendation to present them with a variety of choices and let them eat what they want, since I’ve also heard that helps to avoid picky eaters.

Is Fermented Cod Liver Oil Really All That Magical? – Yes? It certainly seems like it is. I don’t eat many organ meats at all, so supplementing with some good quality CLO just seems like a smart move on my part. I also go with the orange-flavored capsules, and they do has a flavor to them (more of a smell, I’d say) and it is distinctly not orange. I don’t get fishy burps from the pills though, and honestly I’m a freaking adult. I can take a pill that’s good for my health even if I don’t love the flavor.

The Ingredient Allowed in Organic Food That Can Cause Cancer – It’s carageenan, which we were very specifically avoiding while on the Whole 30, but it sounds like it’s worth being adamant about all the time. I have a hunch (going to be testing soon) that the carageenan in the cream we typically buy (Organic Valley) is what is causing digestive upset for me and my wife, rather than the dairy itself. Kalona heavy cream contains no carageenan, so we’ll be getting that and seeing if we have the same response to it as we have been to OV. I’m hoping not, but Science! will tell us for sure.

Recycled Toilet Paper Not Such A Great Idea After All – Keeping BPA away from your sensitive areas seems like a safe bet. I won’t go far as to say “don’t trust chemicals” because…everything is chemicals. But I will at least say that identified, potentially harmful chemicals don’t need to be in close proximity to my personal areas. That seems reasonable, right?

That’s probably enough for one day. I’ll try to get back tomorrow with more. Thanks for reading!

 

Links! Not too many, but I’m easing back into it.

Hey guys! I had some fun links I wanted to post, so here you go. Not as many as I’d like, but I’ll try to keep ’em coming.

Also, there’s been plenty going on in my own life, but too much to get to with the time I have today. Suffice it to say that I was at 201 and 12.8% body fat this morning, which is one of the lowest I’ve ever seen on my Omron. Woot!

Calories and Carbohydrate – This is another great example of Dr. Guyenet making me think about things. Nothing in nutrition is as simple as we’d like it to be, but it’s tough to deny that starving people tend to lose weight. I really, really want to see some of the AHS 2012 presentations. I hear that some of them relating to carbohydrates got a little heated, and there’s nothing like a little nutritional brouhaha to get my blood up. I don’t watch much TV, so I have to make my own fun. Sue me.

Suddenly Last Summer – Dr. Feinman discusses some really neat science, specifically treating cancer patients with a low-carb diet intervention. Sounds like it worked very well, and the next step is breaking through the intellectual inertia that just doesn’t want to see it. Fingers crossed that it’ll work out. I think that could be huge for people, and would make such a difference in so many lives.

Healthwatch Reno – More on the program Robb Wolf is working on with Specialty Health in Reno. Exciting stuff, for sure!

Defining Junk Food – This is a great, short piece about the dangers of gov’t intervention in nutrition. As many of us in the whole/traditonal/ancestral food worlds know, there’s nothing wrong with saturated animal fats from healthy animals, or with fruit, or with reasonable quantities of local, raw honey. Even if a government agency wanted to help people avoid “unhealthy” foods, there’s no guarantee that such an agency’s idea of what’s healthy would look anything like what I know to be healthy for me and my family. I’d rather they just stayed out of it entirely and let the magic of the information age work to educate people.

Plantain Crackers – These are nut-free and egg-free, which is important to me ever since we figured out that my wife has an egg sensitivity. They sound really good, and could be great with some kind of dip, or with tuna salad. Actually, that sounds awesome. I love my tuna salad with something crispy, and these would be perfect. I just gave myself a great excuse to make these!

Okay, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Final Whole 30 Pics

Sorry for the lack of posts, guys! I’m seriously slacking on it. I do have the final pics from my Whole 30, though. This is on the first day and the last day, side by side. Enjoy!

And he’s the side view, side-by-side:

Significant differences all around, I’d say! I’m very pleased. And this morning, for the first time in at least 10 years, I weighed in under 200 lbs! That’s pretty huge, I think. That means I’ve lost over 50 lbs total from my heaviest (252 sometime in August or September of last year), and about 47 from starting this whole paleo gig back in October of last year. Pretty cool, I have to say.

Okay, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading!

Whole 30 – Complete!

Hey guys! Just a quick check-in here. Today is the first day after my Whole 30. I’ve lost about 6 pounds, an inch or more off my waist, at least 1.5% body fat, and I’ve really changed a lot about how I see food. I’m surprised, honestly. I’ve always had issues with sugar, but now I don’t even really crave it. I had a sweetened yogurt this morning as part of my dairy reintroduction protocol, and my mouth started feeling kinda sticky and mucus-y almost immediately. Later on, I could taste the familiar “sugar graveyard” taste in my mouth. You know the one? Your mouth tastes kinda gross, kinda dry, and the best solution for it seems to be popping something sweet back in the ol’ bacon-hole to start the cycle all over again? Yeah, only now I recognized the taste for what it was, and didn’t get stuck in the trap.

So that’s cool. I really haven’t been craving sweets at all since I got a couple weeks into the Whole 30. My tastes have changed dramatically. I used to think that fruit wasn’t very sweet, but now it’s plenty sweet and in such a way that I don’t get the nasty taste later on. Plus I’m also getting nutrients, moisture and fiber at the same time. Big win for fruit. I’ve also noticed that my palate is more open to new flavors. I’m handling spicy food better than I used to, and even enjoying a little heat. I think I’d jacked my palate so far to the sweet end of the spectrum before that anything that wasn’t sweet was amplified. Now I’m much more balanced and can appreciate a wider range of flavors. That’s good stuff.

What else? Oh yeah. I’m flexible now. No idea when or how that happened but I can lean over and touch the floor with my knees locked. I haven’t been able to do that…ever. I have always struggled with flexibility and now it seems like I’ve got it to spare, at least compared to how I was before. Awesome!

I’ve got a picture from this morning, but haven’t loaded it up yet. I’ll do my usual comparison bits for you all. I’m jazzed, though! Definitely some significant results, and I realized that I can eat real, clean paleo for a good long while and be plenty happy. I don’t think I’ll be maintaining Whole 30-level strictness all the time, but I do think I’ll be living much, much closer to it than I was before. maybe a little sugar every now and again, probably some cheese on the regular, but I’m not going to be “that guy who says he eats paleo but every time you see him he’s eating nachos” anymore. Grains, with very few exceptions, are out for good. Cauliflower rice is plenty good enough to satisfy any rice-requiring dishes. I’m not saying I’ll never touch another corn chip, but I’m not going to buy the Costco-sized bag of them anymore, no matter how delicious they are and how great a deal it is. I don’t need to plow through three pounds of chips in a week.

Okay, so that’s it! Hopefully everyone enjoyed the journey as much as I did. I’m not where I want to be, body composition-wise, but I’ll just keep working at it until I get there. I know what I need to do, and I know that I can do it, and that’s a great thing. Thanks for reading!