Beka To Basics

Real Food Cooking

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Better Than Canned Tomato Soup

Yeah, you know which kind of canned soup I’m talking about, don’t you?

Creamy Tomato Soup with a Grilled Cheese Sandwich Mmm

I love it, but something about the high fructose corn syrup and ‘flavorings’ on the label turn me off.

Then there’s the fact that I had all these tomatoes that needed to be used and honestly, what better way than to make soup? And besides, I need practice making soup for all the soup I’ll be making this winter 😉

This can be an easy recipe or a more involved one and it can be creamy or brothy, depending on what you want.  I made the more involved one since I had the time.

Tomato Soup

  • 6 ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion
  • clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups of milk (Creamy) or stock/water (Brothy) or a combination of both

For Roasted Tomato Soup – chop the tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the over for 30 minutes.  Let them cool and puree them.

If you are running short on time, or just don’t feel like it – skip the first step and just puree the tomatoes.

Chop up the onion and garlic.  Melt the butter and saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes until the veggies are soft.  Add the flour to make a roux.  Stir continuously for 3-5 minutes.  Add the liquid and bring it to a simmer. Stir until it starts to thicken.

If you want a less chunky soup (and have the time), let the tomato puree drain in a colander over a bowl.  You can help them drain by squishing them down into the colander.  If you don’t care about chunky soup, just use the puree.

Once your base has thickened, add the tomato juice/ puree and stir.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  I also added some Italian Seasoning, just because it’s good.

The best part about this recipe?  You can make it and freeze in canned size portions to use in all those recipes that call for canned tomato soup!

Linked up at Fight Back FridayWhat’s in the Box Link Party and Real Food Wednesday!


Of Milk and Meat

Mountains Peeking

A few miles West of my house in the “city,” farms are everywhere.  Anyone from Virginia can tell you – if you drive far enough away from the cities, you start to see mountains peeking up in the distance and the roads get just a little more windy.  Drive even farther and you will start to see farms on either side. Farms with corn, farms with cows, farms with an eclectic mix of livestock and vegetables.  It’s one of my favorite things about where I live.  The sad part is, a lot of the food you get from the grocery store, isn’t from here.  It’s shipped from California or Mexico or farther.  Virginia is, however, know for a few things like peaches, apples, beef and peanuts – those you can find in our grocery stores if you look.

I spent the day out on farms today.  First, I went to visit my milk cows.  I have to tell you about my near obsessiveness with dairy. I

She is actually pretty friendly for a milk cow. Apparently Jersey’s are known for being curious.

know there is a huge debate about whether or not people should actually drink milk after they reach a certain age. I don’t have the answer for that, I just know that I love it.  I’ve also heard a bit about how some groups of people developed having the enzyme that makes it possible for them to digest dairy.  If that is true, then I believe I am one of those people.

Back to my obsessiveness.  I drink milk all the time.  I have some with dinner. I have more before I go to bed. I eat yogurt every day. I put cheese on many things.  I think you really have to know me and witness this to fully understand my love for dairy. So, I went to visit my cows. Without cows, I couldn’t have milk.

The goats were so friendly. They jump up on you like a dog if you let them. Just watch your belt-loops and hair, they are nibblers!

The lady who cares for them is really great.  She walked us around her farm and showed us all that she does and she does more than just milk cows.  She also has goats, pigs, vegetables and kids (the human kind, not goat kind).  We spent a good two hours walking around, talking and enjoying the scenery.

They look so happy basking in the mud.

I was also really close to my meat farm, so I stopped by their farm store.  They have a beautiful place too, but they ask you to schedule time with them if you want to take an actual tour, which I neglected to do, so I just got the quick drive through, stop at the store and chat with one of the farmers for a minute or two tour.

And of course, I stopped by G’ma’s farm to say hello.  It’s not a working farm so much anymore, but my family has started a small vegetable plot, so I got some goodies.

G’ma’s House

Come see me and many others at Fat Tuesday and Fight Back Friday!

Vegan Eggplant

From time to time you have to try something different, like cooking something vegan. (Do you capitalize Vegan?)

I fully enjoy eating meat and dairy products (just wait until tomorrow, you’ll see just how much I enjoy them!), but sometimes it’s good to have some veggies and why not let them star in their own show?

Remember my plea for help to use all the eggplants I’ll be getting? Well, I found this one and it gave me an idea for this vegan fest.

Vegan Eggplant Patties and Squash Noodle Spaghetti

Eggplant Patties

  • 1 Eggplant
  • 1 cup of Breadcrumbs
  • 1 or 2 cloves of Garlic
  • Italian Seasoning

Tomato Sauce

  • Onion
  • 2 Tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 cloves of Garlic
  • Basil – I used fresh

Squash Noodles

  • 1 Squash
  • Olive Oil

I started with the sauce.  Just dice the onion and saute in olive oil until they are softened a bit and season with salt and pepper.  Add the garlic and saute.  Rough chop the tomatoes and add then to the onion and garlic mixture.  They will start to break down and make a sauce as the heat through. You can help them along by mashing them with a potato masher.  Let it simmer while you make everything else.

To make the patties, start by roasting the eggplant until its soft and mushy.  Pull out all the insides and mix them together with the breadcrumbs, garlic and Italian seasoning.  It is a really wet mixture, but if it won’t hold together at all, just add a few more breadcrumbs until it does.  Form the mixture into patties and fry in a bit of olive oil until they are browned a bit on both sides.  It’s already cooked, so really its just to make the outside crunchy and delicious.

Use a potato peeler to make “noodles” out of the squash.  Once the patties are done, add some more olive oil to the pan and saute the squash strips until they are cooked throuh.  It will only take a few minutes since the slices are so thin.  Add the noodles to the sauce and serve with an eggplant pattie (or two).  I might try to make the patties into “meatballs” next time so it looks like real spaghetti and meatballs. 🙂

This is one eggplant preparation that I actually like. I still have many other recipes to try and make more eggplants coming my way in the next few weeks, so I’m glad to have at least this one to fall back on in case the others don’t work for me.

Come see me and some other great recipes at Real Food Wednesday and What’s in the Box link party




Chorizo y Vino

Sometimes life needs a little vino (for me it’s often – read almost always – a Spanish red) and what goes with vino de Espana?  Yep. Chorizo.

And before we get into if Chorizo is Spanish or Mexican or Portuguese, all three have their own special, unique and yummy versions of Chorizo. There are also many other versions of Chorizo.  If you want/need to learn more, this seems like a good place to start.  Also, call me and we can make all sorts of Chorizo foods together.

(Isn’t that the cutest wine glass?  Thanks G’mA Baltimore!)

How to Pair Wine:

1) Decide what you are having for dinner

2) Consider if it will do well with a sweet, fruity light wine, or a rich, full bodied one. Perhaps a spicy wine would be appropriate with your dinner selection. There’s always the option to skip the dinner wine and just a desert wine, if the guests or occasion dictates.

3) Go to the store and hope they have a tasting so you can truly make a delicious selection

4) Realize that you have no idea how to pair wine and move on to step 5

5) Pick a bottle that you think you will like based on whatever reason you think you will like it, purchase it and go home to find out.

I did well this time 🙂

The Chorizo and Potato Hash was actually leftovers from last night, but there wasn’t quite enough left over for a really filling dinner tonight.  That’s really not a problem thought because I learned a nice trick from a good friend of mine a long time ago.  When you need to reheat left overs the next day – just throw them in a frying pan with an egg or two and fry it all up.

Works every time

We’re getting fancy

I don’t know why, but anytime I hear the word braised, I think fancy.  I know its not, or at least doesn’t have to be, but it makes me think fancy.  Maybe it’s because we didn’t really have anything braised while I was growing up or because I feel like it’s just a giant pain to braise something.  In reality, braising is just about as easy as making a soup and putting it in the oven.  Seriously, it’s that easy.  The catch for me is – I have cooking pots for the stove and I have cooking pans that go into the oven. So, to me, braising is a pain.  Sear meat, remove from pan, saute veggies, add liquid, remove everything to another pot that DOES go in the oven, cook for a few hours, take it out and pour the liquid into another pot that goes on the stove, reduce, serve over braised meat, wash the 5 million dishes you made dirty while preparing braised meat.

I forgot that I have cast iron, which can be used in the oven and the stove top.  I used to use cast iron for very specific things (bacon, corn bread), but I didn’t really use it for every day cooking.  The more and more I cook, the more I tend to use it for everything. Recently, I pulled out the back up cast iron for every day use, so now I have two 🙂

Back to the fancy meal for tonight.  I bought some short ribs that I am finally going to braise.  Here we go…

  • Short Ribs
  • 1 Carrot
  • 2 Celery Ribs
  • 1/2 Onion
  • Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 or 2 cups of water or stock

Preheat the oven to 350. Season and sear the short ribs in a little bit of olive oil and remove them from the pan.  Add the veggies, season and saute for a few minutes, then add some wine and water or stock.  Bring the liquid up to a simmer and add the ribs back in, cover and put it in the oven for a few hours until the meat is cooked through an tender.  AND, if you don’t have a lid for your cast iron… No worries!

Stuffed Squash

I’ve never made these before, so I was guessing the whole time I was coming up with the recipe.  Sometimes this guessing method works, sometimes its disastrous.  Happily, tonight was one of those sometimes. 😀

I admit, I had some help.  The sage pork sausage is from Mt Vernon Farms and it is absolutely wonderful. It’s sausagey, but not TOO sausagey (I think it’s because they found a good balance between fennel seed and sage).  I had it in my freezer from when I made sausage gravy and biscuits which only needed 1/2 lb of sausage.  Anyways, the filling was quite tasty, but I’m sure you could sub any ground meat or beans and it would still be good – Just know that there is something heavenly about buttery squash and rich sage pork combined (just sayin).

Pork Stuffed Squash

  • Squash
  • 1/2 Green Pepper. diced
  • 1/2 Onion, diced
  • Garlic, diced
  • Butter/Olive Oil
  • 1/2 lb cooked Pork Sausage (homemade or bought)
  • Cheese (I used Havarti)
  • Salt and Pepper

Cut the Squash in half, lengthwise.  Drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and roast, cut side down, in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes until they are tender, but still hold together.  While the squash is roasting, make the filling.  I sauteed the Green Pepper and Onion for a few minutes in a butter and olive oil mix, seasoning them with some salt and pepper.  When they were tender, I added the Pork and heated it through.

Take the squash out of the oven and when they have cooled a little, cut a little off the back so they will sit flat when you turn them over to stuff them.  On the cut side of the squash, use a fork to pull some of the squash insides out, so it looks like a little canoe.  I mixed the squash insides back into my filling cause I didn’t want to throw them away.  Fill the canoe with the pork filling, top with a bit of cheese and bake until the cheese is melty.

Come see many other recipes and tips at Fat Tuesday!

Potato Leek Soup Twice!

Potato Leek Soup

If you want to make a real vegetarian soup, you need to have vegetable stock.  I’m not afraid to make a vegetable soup with chicken stock, but sometimes it’s good to change it up a bit. Plus having extra vegetables in one’s diet, even if liquid form, is never ever a bad thing.  It’s especially useful when you get these wonderful looking leeks from the farmer market and you don’t want to let the tough green parts go to waste.

It’s also really easy and exactly like making chicken stock minus the chicken bones.  So, take all the vegetable butts (remember those?) out of your freezer, add the leek tops and any other veggie pieces you have lying about, put ’em in your crock pot, add water, turn on low and wait until the veggies don’t really look like veggies anymore. (4-8 hours).  By the way, the crock pot is my favorite way of cooking things. I use it at least twice a week and I’m considering getting another one… anyone have an extra they want to get rid of? 😉

Potato Leek Soup (not creamy)

  • Stock
  • 3-4 small Potatoes, chopped
  • 2 Leeks, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • thyme, marjoram, bay leaf (or anything you like)
  • salt and pepper
  • butter/olive oil

I like to saute the leeks in a little butter and season them with salt, pepper and herbs* (not the bay yet).  Once they’ve gotten soft and smell even better than they did raw, add the chopped garlic and saute another minute or so.  Add a little bit of stock and de-glaze the bottom of the pan, then add the potatoes and enough stock to cover them and the bay leaf.  Bring it to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft.  I like to squish them a little bit after they’ve cooked, just so there’s a nice mix of potato chunks and mashed potatoes.  This is how I made this week’s soup, but here’s another version that’s also good!

Creamy Potato Leek Soup

  • Same ingredients as above
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup milk

Some differences – This way has to use butter and the measurements are important.  Also, you’ll want the potatoes to be precooked. I usually bake them and then chop them up to add to the soup.

Saute the leeks in 2 tbsp butter.  Once the leeks are soft, add the herbs* and 2 tbsp flour to make a roux.  Cook the roux, stirring almost constantly until the flour and butter have been incorporated together.  This usually takes about 3-5 minutes.  When your roux is ready, add 1/2 cup stock and whisk until the roux has been incorporated and then add another 1/2 cup of stock and the milk.  Bring to a simmer for a few minutes – you’ll know it’s ready when the soup has thickened a bit; It will thicken more as it cools.

*This is when I add dry herbs.  If you are using fresh ones (lucky) then add them at the end.


I don’t know about everyone else, but I get grumpy without breakfast.  So, I get up early enough to scramble or fry an egg for breakfast almost every single day before work.  Well, thanks to this recipe over at Farm Fresh and Active, I don’t have to anymore.  Just cook enough for a week, pull one out every morning, put it in the oven/toaster over for a few minutes while I’m getting ready, and go!  Plus, it means I get egg dishes dirty once a week instead of every day.  Wooohoooo!

Adapted Egg Muffins

  • 6 Eggs
  • 1/3 c of cheese
  • garlic
  • 4 slices of cooked and chopped bacon
  • 1/2 c lentils
  • salt and pepper

Scramble everything together and pour into 6 muffin tins.  Cook at 35o for 20 minutes and spend those 20 minutes being really excited about the extra sleep you’ll get every morning.

This recipe is awesome because you can add whatever you have/ enjoy having with your eggs and it’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever used.  Next week, I might put something different in each muffin so I’m surprised every day 🙂



Come check out Fat Tuesday to find lots of other ideas and recipes!

How to make a fish cake

I haven’t bought fish in months. I know, fish is really good for you and its really tasty.  I’m not afraid of cooking fish, I know sometimes that’s what keeps people from buying fish.  Fish is actually really easy, and fast.  I haven’t bought it recently because I’ve been so enthralled with cooking other meats that I haven’t cooked with before.  Like Pork Belly, Denver Ribs, Boston Butt, Beef Suet, and Pork Back Fat. Who wouldn’t be distracted by all the new and different cuts of meat that I never even knew about. So, I saw this cod for sale and it made me realize just how long it’s been since I cooked fish.  So, I got it. And I cooked it. With the tomatillo sauce like my friend told me to try. And you know what?

I overcooked it. It was kind of gross.

I know how to cook fish. I know that you take it out at least a minute before you think it’s done and let it sit and then test it to make sure its flaky and cooked through.  Not this time.  I did a visual check and decided it needed 5 more minutes (5 more minutes for fish is like 30 more minutes for anything else, seriously don’t know what I was thinking).  It was dry, rubbery, and not tasty.


And a fail that involved having an extra overcooked, rubbery and not tasty fillet left over.  I was not excited about suffering through another gross dinner.

What to do?  Yep. Fish Cake.  My gift to everyone else 😉 When you make fish that you don’t want to finish, turn it into this and people will actually request that you make it again.

Fish Cakes

  • Fillet or two of cooked fish, flaked. You could also use chopped shrimp or crab
  • Egg (or 2, depending on how much fish you have)
  • Breadcrumbs, or crushed croutons which I used cause that was all I had
  • clove of garlic
  • parsley
  • mashed potatoes
  • salt and pepper

I have 1 fillet, so I shredded it and added 1 whisked egg along with about a tsp of parsley, some salt and pepper, about half a cup of crushed croutons and about a half cup of mashed potatoes.  You want to have a sticky mixture, but you also want it to hold together.  Preheat a pan and some fat (oil, butter, or lard work well), just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  Put the patties in the pan and let cook for about 5 minutes, and then flip.  5 more minutes and the on to the dinner plate.

Serve with a salad or steamed broccoli with cheese (or both!) and call it a night!

Food Art

This is my kitchen bar counter.  A lot of the vegetables I get need to be stored at room temperature, or slightly below.  The fridge is too cold, so they spoil quickly if I put them in there.  The squash should probably be somewhere like a root cellar, but the counter will have to do.  They seem to keep just fine as long as I use them in a few days.

I’ve started to call the bar area of my kitchen, my still life counter.  On Fridays, after I pick up new veggies and arrange them on my counter, I feel like I should get an easel and paintbrush out and get to work. 😉

It’ really satisfying to use them up one by one and see my still life painting be depleted of all its subjects, and then refilled the next week with different ones. This week I plan to make, Lamb over potatoes with a basil balsamic sauce, Squash stuffed with sage pork ragu (is it still a ragu without the pasta?), Pork BBQ hash and Potato Leek Soup (yes, I know it’s July).  I’ll try to post recipes, the problem is remembering to write down what I do as I’m doing it.

Now, where are my oil paints?

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