Recipes, Sides and Soups

Red Lentil Soup

Savory like chili, but not as spicy, this soup is both comfort food and health food all in one delightful bowl. Lentils’ health benefits include fiber, of course, but they contribute significant amounts of folate, iron and magnesium, too.

What I like best about lentils? They are super easy to prepare. No long pre-soaks like other beans.

Red Lentil Soup

Click here for a printable version of this recipe


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 (32 ounce) carton chicken broth
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • sour cream for garnish


1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, kosher salt, black pepper, and chili powder. Cook and stir 2 minutes more until the spices are fragrant.

2. Stir in the chicken broth, lentils, and carrot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the lentils are soft, about 30 minutes.

3. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the cooking pot, or use a conventional blender, pureeing the soup in small batches and returning to the pot. If desired, do not puree all of the soup. This will leave it a little chunky. I prefer it pretty smooth.

4. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro, then season to taste with salt. Drizzle with additional olive oil and a dollop of sour cream to serve.

Recipes, Sides and Soups

5 Homemade Seasoning & Soup Mixes

In my ongoing attempt to eat less processed foods, I try to cook and bake from scratch whenever I’m able. Sometimes I veer off track, other times I purposely derail, but I’ve found that putting meals together from scratch doesn’t have to be as daunting and tedious as it sounds – especially if you have the right ingredients at the ready.

These pantry mixes (and one refrigerator mix) have quickly become staples in my cooking. By using these mixes instead of store-bought packets, kits, and cans, I am able to keep track of (and pronounce) each and every ingredient. I also have more control of the amount of salt and MSG in the final product.

I hope you find these as helpful in your kitchen as they have been in mine!

Chili Seasoning Mix

  • 4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon dried, minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine these ingredients and keep them in an airtight container in your pantry. The beauty of this mix is that I can control the heat in my chili by adding more or less red pepper. You can do the same based on your tastes. Use 2-3 tablespoons of this mix in your chili recipe instead of a chili seasoning packet.

Onion Soup Mix

  • 2 ½ tablespoons dried minced onion
  • 4 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine ingredients. Store in an airtight container. If you’re nervous about sodium/MSG/etc. in the bouillon, you can omit it and use Better Than Bouillon base (which is like a paste) individually as you make your recipes. However, I noticed that the most recent canister of Herb-Ox that I picked up had no MSG added (besides what was naturally occuring.) Use this mix in any recipe where a packet of onion soup mix is an ingredient. 2-3 tablespoons should do it.

Spaghetti Sauce Mix

  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup dried minced onion
  • 3 tablespoons sweet pepper flakes (I use Perfect Pinch Bell Pepper Blend)
  • ¼ cup dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried minced garlic

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container. 1/4 cup of this mix, combined with a 6 oz. can of tomato paste and 2 cups of water makes a simple spaghetti sauce that you can tweak and personalize to your heart’s content. However, I use this mix in other recipes, like slow-cooked pot roast and my Heirloom Tomato Soup.

Cream Soup Mix

  • 2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
  • ¾ cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chicken bouillon granules
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme

Combine these ingredients and store in an airtight container in your fridge or freezer. Take 1/3 cup of this mix, combined with
1 1/4 cup of water and warm on the stove until thickened. Use this soup any time you have a recipe that calls for a can of condensed cream of chicken soup. This recipe has been such a help to me when making casseroles for family events. I prepare the soup the day before making the casserole, pop it in the fridge, and overnight it gets good and thick, just like canned condensed soup. I omit the chicken bouillon and instead use Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base, which, at the time of this posting, is gluten free. That way, I can prepare my casseroles gluten free (contingent on the other ingredients in the recipe, of course.) If gluten free is not a concern for you, simply add the bouillon granules to the dry mix instead so that all of your seasoning is already incorporated. This makes a lot of dry mix. I sometimes half this recipe so that I don’t have to store too much.

Taco Seasoning Mix

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Mix and store in an airtight container in the pantry. No more taco kits! I just add a couple tablespoons to my ground beef with just a scant bit of water to help incorporate the seasonings. I add more or less depending on taste. This is also great when used in dips, on nachos, and in quesadillas.

Do you have a favorite homemade seasoning blend? Please share it! There’s always room in my pantry for one more yummy mix!

Recipes, Sides and Soups

Serendipitous Tomato Soup

It all started with an old, old recipe.


This is my favorite recipe for authentic Italian gravy (a.k.a. tomato sauce.) It was passed down to me by my mom and dad, who received it from my aunt’s Italian mother-in-law (who heard it from her father’s uncle – just kidding – but it really did come from my aunt’s mother-in-law.) I grew to love this sauce as a child. I savored the spaghetti and meatballs my dad made with the recipe, along with the little bits of pork that were in the sauce that gave it a sweet, rich flavor.

So how did sauce become soup? To be honest, I’m not really sure. I think my immersion blender may be partially to blame, along with some other liberties I took with the recipe. Let me explain.

When my heirloom tomatoes were harvested a few weeks ago,  I decided most of them would go into this tomato sauce recipe. Only this time, I decided to do things a little differently. I didn’t have pork or chops, so I decided to make it meatless. Since I wasn’t frying up meat, I cut the original recipe’s olive oil in half. I also decided to use a tomato sauce seasoning that I have mixed up in my cupboard for a different sauce recipe I occasionally use. Things were simmering right along, taking shape into a wonderful sauce when I decided to use my immersion blender (my favorite kitchen appliance second only to my rice cooker) to smooth out the sauce to perfection.

Lo and behold, a delicious tomato soup was born. I think the blender emulsified the olive oil into the tomatoes to give it a smooth, velvety soup texture. This soup instantly reminded me of the tomato soup they serve at Panera Bread. I’d even go so far as to say it could pass as a copycat recipe. Try it yourself and see if you agree!

First, the sauce seasoning mix. This makes quite a bit, and it can be stored in your cupboard or pantry for up to a year. Like I mentioned, I use this in several other recipes as well, so you will probably be seeing it again soon. It’s a great replacement in any recipe that calls for a packet of spaghetti sauce seasoning.

Spaghetti Sauce Seasoning Mix

  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup dried minced onion
  • 3 tablespoons sweet pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried minced garlic

Store in an airtight container for up to a year.

Come to think of it, I’ll bet the cornstarch in this seasoning also contributed to my sauce becoming soup. Now, the soup recipe:

Heirloom Tomato Soup


  • 8 tomatoes (I used 2 large, 2 medium and 4 small. My tomatoes were a mixture of Cherokee Purple and Brandywine Pinks)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tbs of Spaghetti Sauce Seasoning Mix (above)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 can water


1. Skin tomatoes
Fill a large stock pot about half way with water and bring to a boil. Place about 2-3 tomatoes in the boiling water at a time, and allow the whole tomatoes to boil for just a minute or two, until the skins start to pucker. Remove tomatoes and place them on a cutting board to cool slightly. Repeat this with all your tomatoes. Once they are cool enough to be handled, slide the skins off the tomatoes and trim away any stems. Chop the tomatoes into sections and scoop out as many of the seeds as you can.

2. Cook Tomatoes
Empty your stock pot of any remaining water and heat your olive oil in the pot with the 3 tbs. seasoning mix. Once the seasoning is incorporated and starts smelling lovely, it’s time to add your tomato chunks. Cover and simmer for one hour.

3. Puree the Soup
Once your tomatoes have simmered for an hour, add one can of tomato paste and one can of water. This is where I whipped out the immersion blender and created the smooth soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, now would be the time to transfer your soup into a blender to puree until smooth.

I’m sure this would actually make a good sauce, too. Just adjust how much you blend accordingly for a chunky or smooth sauce. You could go super chunky and not blend it at all.

I hope you enjoy this sauce/soup!