Katie’s Tomato Basil Soup

It’s a cold, dreary day.  My favorite kind of day if I’m at home and hungry.  Usually on days like this I want one of two dishes:  curry or tomato basil soup.  There’s something about the flavors in those dishes that makes me feel warm and satisfied and ready for a nap.

This tomato basil soup recipe has a little back story.  It’s adapted from the Nordstrom cookbook, which I don’t own.  But my friend Katie had them all, and when i was in college, she had me over at her house every week and cooked dinner and mentored me.  The older I get, the more I realize what a labor of love that was.

Typically I would help her with dinner when I got to her house–which I am so grateful for now because I credit those nights for helping me learn how to cook–and then we’d prepare cookies to bake while we ate dinner.  My favorite dishes from her include her lime cilantro tacos, pecan and apple over greens salad, and the tomato basil soup.  I still have all of those recipes (and one for muesli) in my cookbook written in her handwriting.

After dinner, we’d scoop some vanilla ice cream onto a warm cookie and head out to her porch to talk about my life.  She listened to me talk about that Hungarian guy I really liked, but I didn’t know if he liked me back.  She helped me find some of the roots of my performance-based perfectionism while making me laugh at some of her teenage stories.  Most importantly, she invited me into her home week after week and let me see her marriage with Ryan, let me help tuck her daughter Kyla in, and let me see what a Christian woman who is not afraid to own up to her vulnerabilities was like.

I credit Katie for helping me see myself and God more honestly.  She and Ryan helped JD and me in ways that we are still realizing, and I will always be grateful for those weekly dinners and cookies on her porch.

Below is a plant-based-ified version of Nordstrom’s tomato basil soup, and it is my favorite soup of all time.  It’s simple, easy, and fairly quick.  You can make it smoky by adding some smoked paprika.  You can put some Italian sausage (or Italian tofurky) for the meat-eaters in your family.  You can pour it over rice or toast some french bread for dipping.  Or pour some pumpkin cornbread croutons on it like I did. It’s really hard to ruin the soup.

So good luck!  Whip up some of this soup and perhaps invite a college student over for dinner.  They need someone to talk to.

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Tomato Basil Soup
Makes 6-8 bowls of soup.

1 tbs. coconut oil (or vegetable broth if you don’t use oil)
5 carrots, peeled and chopped (I run these through my Vitamix for like 10 seconds to chop them)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 tbs. dried basil
3 cans (28-oz. each) whole tomatoes* with puree
1 can (15-oz.) tomato sauce
2 cups cashew cream (2 cups raw cashews and 1/2 cup of water)
2 tbs. honey (this is to combat bitterness)
Salt and peper to taste

*You can use whole tomatoes with basil, whole Roma tomatoes (my favorite), or Italian-style whole tomatoes.  They are all slightly different, but good options.

1. In a big pot, warm the oil.  Then add carrots, onion, and dried basil and saute until softened (about 10 minutes).
2. Add the tomatoes with puree and tomato sauce, and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes to blend the flavors.
4. While the soup is simmering, pour 2 cups of raw cashews and 1/2 cup of water into your blender and blend.  It is much better to start out with not enough water than too much–trust me, you do not want cashew water in your soup!  If the cream is too thick to naturally pour out of the blender, add water by tablespoons until it’s the consistency of melted ice cream.
5. Remove soup from heat and puree the soup with an immersion hand blender.  You can also do this by blending the whole tomatoes and some of the soup in a regular blender, but it’s much more cumbersome.  Get an immersion blender–it will change your life.
6. Once the soup is pureed, add cashew cream and heat through.  Add salt, pepper, and honey to taste.  If it’s too bitter, add some more honey.
7. Enjoy!


Cashew Cheese

Cashew cheese

Losing cheese as a plant-stronger was not much of a loss for me, but it nearly brought JD to his knees. He was a cheese-lover through and through, and that packaged vegan cheese was not satisfying to our health needs or taste buds.  I mean, I gave up eating Play-Doh a long time ago.

Then we visited this hole-in-a-wall pizza place, Pizza Luce, when we were staying in Minnesota with some friends. We ordered one of their vegan pizzas, and it came with a mysterious substance called rinotta cheese.  It. Was. Delicious.

After researching hours for their recipe, I came across multiple nut cheese recipes that helped me make my own. Whenever I make it, whether for pizza or lasagna (it’s amazing in cooked and raw lasagna), JD will typically eat it with a spoon when I’m not looking. That’s okay–he’s known some dark, cheese-less places.

Cashew Cheese
Makes enough for 2-3 pizzas

1 block of firm organic tofu, chopped (super firm/sprouted is too thick, silken will make it runny)*
1 c. cashews
1 c. nutritional yeast
1/2 c. soy/almond/whatever milk
2 cloves sauteed garlic
1/2 chopped onion
1 tbsp. paprika (smoked is even better)
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. oregano
1 tbsp. basil
Dash of pepper
Add extra milk, depending on thickness

*If you’re soy-free, you can skimp on the tofu.  Just add more cashews or lesson the milk measurement.

Add milk and spices to a blender and then add cashews and nutritional yeast. Blend on medium until fairly smooth. Then blend in onion and garlic.

Then add half of the tofu and blend. I have to use my tamper with my Vitamix at this point, so your blender may need some safe outside help (like a wooden spoon) because it’s quite thick. You may need to add more milk. Blend in the rest of the tofu.

Scoop onto pizza before sauce as it’ll be thicker than pizza sauce. Or you can put it in lasagna or use it as a dip. It doesn’t melt like dairy cheese, but it does get a nice slightly hardened consistency. Once I’ve added all my toppings, I like to scoop little globs all around the pizza, which makes for a flavor bomb once it’s cooked.

How do you deal with life without cheese?

Challah French Toast with Homemade Apple Butter

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Saturday mornings. Steady rain against the window. Freshly washed hair. Warm coffee. Early morning Skype with friends across the ocean. The likes of Josh Garrels and Audrey Assad playing in the background. These are a few of my favorite things.

These kind of mornings are renewing for the soul because I think it’s easy to get caught up in the buzz and rush of life, even on breaks. There’s endless options on Netflix and Breaking News updates on CNN, and my smartphone always promises an anesthetic pleasure that never makes good.

But setting aside time to be slow, to stare out the window, to take my time writing a blog post or a lesson plan. That is important. I read a blog post on one of my favorite blogs, Storyline, which is run by Don Miller and his team. It talks about celebrating the small, and it’s got me thinking about what I consider small or ordinary. How are those things significant? What makes them significant? Why should they be significant? When did my glorification of the big and flashy begin?

So one of my slow things is to spend time in the kitchen, making food that will delight JD. His favorite food group is breakfast, which happens to be my favorite, too. I think it’s a lot of people’s favorites.

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This is challah.  It’s a braided bread eaten in many cultures, and you can buy a loaf at your local Whole Foods.  Hungarians know it as kalacs, and JD nearly fainted when he saw it for the first time in the States.  It has that effect on people.  It is typically made with eggs, so this is not a purely plant-strong meal.  But like I’ve said on the blog before, we do eat some non-plant-strong foods such as eggs and certain kinds of fish from time to time.  It’s just not our norm.

I’ve posted before about French Toast Casserole, and while that is a time-friendly, delicious option, it’s definitely worth it to stand by the griddle and dip my finger in the batter as I flip the challah slices. Even more than the warm heaven that fills my mouth and makes my taste buds sing “Hallelujah” is the joy that spreads across JD’s face as he sees the pile of French toast awaiting him. Husbands are such good food audiences.  And warm challah makes my stomach happy.

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This recipe below takes about 40 minutes altogether to make, and there’s enough time between flips that you could clean up the kitchen, read a blog post, or water the plants. Or you can sneak tastes of the apple butter and stare into the steam of cinnamon heaven and daydream. Your pick.

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Challah French Toast with Homemade Apple Butter
Makes 1 1/2 loaves of challah

French Toast Ingredients:
14-oz. package of silken tofu
2 c. soy/almond milk
4 tbs. honey or maple syrup
4 tbs. flaxseed meal
2 tbs. chia seeds
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla

1-2 loaves challah, sliced

Apple Butter Ingredients:
5-6 apples, sliced (leave the peel on!)
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1/4 c. honey

For apple butter, dump all of the ingredients in a crockpot and cook it on low for 5-6 hours (I did it overnight).

In the morning, throw the mix in a blender and blend until smooth. That’s it!

For the French toast, heat the griddle at 350 degrees.

Blend all of the ingredients (except the challah). I use a hand blender, but you could put in a blender. If it’s not already, pour the mix in a bowl or pan big enough to dip the bread in.

Dip a slice of the challah in the mix until it’s completely covered. Then place on the griddle. Let it sizzle for 3-4 minutes. Then flip. It should be a golden brown. If it’s still tofu-y, put it back on that side for another minute or two. If it’s too brown, flip it earlier.

Once it’s done, scoop some warm apple butter on a piece of French toast and sink into your happy place.

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What’s your favorite French toast topping?

Sunday Morning Breakfast: Carrot Cake Muffins with Melting Coconut-Almond Icing

I woke up before the sun this morning to “Say a Prayer” by Aretha Franklin. I couldn’t help but be in a good mood.  I really feel like I have my life together when 1. I wake up to Aretha, and 2. I wake up as she sings “From the  moment I wake up…”

I read some of The Simple Path by Mother Teresa and how Jacob moved his whole life (again) to Egypt because he heard Joseph was alive.

I drank too much coffee and stared longer than I had time for out the window at the birds chasing each other and singing their Sunday song.  There’s not as much of that in a courtyard of concrete as there was in the tree-laden hills of Arkansas.

In these practices, my heart was quieted in the first few moments of daylight, and it was a true Sunday morning–baptizing, sacred, familiar, new.

After my first few Sunday morning rituals, I got up from my comfy couch nook, turned on the Sara Groves Pandora station and began making breakfast.

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A few weeks ago, I made zucchini bread, and I have made it a few times since. A few days ago, I accidentally put twice as much maple syrup in the batter and couldn’t figure out why the bread wouldn’t solidify. Then I realized my mistake and accepted that it was my brain telling me to eat more maple syrup. That had to be it. I accept, brain. You’re right.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned before my obsession with the 5-lb. bag of carrots at Whole Foods. 5 lbs of organic carrots for less than $5, people! I don’t think Whole Foods has realized what it’s doing.

So I’ve been trying to find more ways of incorporating carrots in our diet because I’m not a huge fan of raw carrots or steamed carrots, which I realize is ironic. But 5 lbs of carrots for less than $5!  You can’t pass that up.

I found a vegan carrot cake muffin recipe, and I tweaked it to make it oil-free and smothered in coconut cream.

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The coconut cream is not true icing in that it doesn’t harden or even stay on top of the muffin. Once it hits a warm muffin, it begins to surrender to the carrot cake muffin and melt into happiness. It’s a celebration of vegetables and cream.  It’s a symbol of what happens to my cells as carrots enter swimming in coconut cream–they surrender, they accept.

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Carrot Cake Muffins with Melting Coconut-Almond Icing
Adapted from Beth’s recipe at Tasty Yummies
Makes 12 muffins

Muffin Ingredients:
2 c. oat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1/4 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
2 flax eggs (2 tbs. ground flaxseed with 6 tbsp. water mixed together)
1/4 c. pureed pumpkin
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. soy milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. raisins
1 c. shredded carrot

Icing Ingredients:
2 5.4-oz. cans of coconut cream*
3 tbsp. maple syrup
Handful of roasted almonds, ground

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare flax eggs and set aside while you mix other ingredients together.

Combine first four ingredients in a big bowl. Then add coconut.

Mix wet ingredients, including flax eggs, in a separate bowl until completely blended.

Combine dry and wet ingredients and stir until blended. Add walnuts, raisins, and carrots.

Scoop into muffin pan and cook for 25 minutes.

While muffins are cooking, ground almonds and maple syrup together.

Scoop coconut cream (make sure you don’t scoop out coconut water) into a bowl. Add almond and maple syrup mixture. Whisk together until completely blended.

Once muffins are done, let cool in pan for a few minutes. Then take them out and place on a cooling rack for a few minutes.

Smooth icing** on top of the muffins and feed to groggy husbands.

*For best results, refrigerate the coconut cream the night before.

**Because of the nature of the coconut cream, the icing will melt a little bit over your muffin. If you don’t want that, don’t add the icing.

How do you get more vegetables into your diet?

Mean Green Enchiladas

I can’t tell you the last time I took TUMS. To truly understand how remarkable this is, you have to know that JD and I used to take TUMS nearly every night in our pre-plant-strong days. Meat is naturally very acidic, and on top of the processed, oily meals we were eating, our stomachs were battlefields.

I took TUMS for heartburn, acid reflux, and sour stomach regularly–even when we were eating “healthy.” In addition to TUMS, JD was on medication for acid reflux and couldn’t drink coffee or eat anything with tomatoes in it.

Do you know how hard it is to make chili, tacos, pasta, curry, etc. without tomatoes? We actually had arguments about adding tomatoes to a meal. But that’s not relevant to my story.

Since completely transitioning to a plant-strong diet, our life is vastly different. JD and I are completely off medication, and we haven’t had to worry about acid reflux for nearly a year. I literally cannot remember the last time I had a stomachache. I mean, I grew up thinking stomachaches were a normal part of your day. And now I can’t remember the last time I had one. That is crazy!

For so many reasons we are plant-strong, but this a big reason. Food is not a point of contention in our lives. It doesn’t cause turmoil inside our intestines, we don’t lay around feeling miserable, and we are not longer dependent on medication. It’s liberating.

I preface this recipe with that story because I still have some tricks up my sleeve from those no-tomato days, including these Mean Green Enchiladas. You can check out my Kale and Sweet Potato Enchiladas here, but if you’re wanting some green goodness for dinner, this is a simple, mouth-watering recipe.

Don’t be deterred by the amount of ingredients–you probably have quite a few of these in your pantry already. With prep and cook time, it takes about 45-50 minutes to make, which makes for a great weekday meal.

The sauce is what makes this recipe, so make it your own with extra cilantro, more lime, or less salt.  You can substitute ingredients to fit your needs and preferences such as spinach for kale, wheat tortillas for corn tortillas, kidney beans for black beans, etc.

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Mean Green Enchiladas
Serves 6-8 (1 serving is 3-4 enchiladas!)

Sauce ingredients:
1/2 c. water
3 avocadoes
28-oz. can tomatillos, drained
1/2 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro
Juice from 1/2 a lime
Handful of pickled jalapenos
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. pepper

Filling ingredients:
1 lb. white mushrooms, sliced
2 cans black beans, drained
1 c. sweet corn
2 c. kale (I used frozen), chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1/4 c. tomatillo salsa
Juice from 1/2 lime
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder

Small tortillas (I used white corn this time)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend all sauce ingredients in a blender until smooth. Add avocadoes if it’s too liquid-y, water if it’s too thick. Set aside.

Add all filling ingredients except salt, cilantro, and salsa to a skillet with a little bit of vegetable broth and saute until mushrooms and kale are wilted. Then add salt, cilantro, and salsa.

Scoop about 1/4 c. filling mixture in a tortilla and roll up, placing the two flaps on the bottom into a 13×9 pan. Continue until pan is filled up.  I used two large pans for this recipe.

Pour green sauce generously over tortillas and use a spoon to spread sauce over edges of tortilla. The sauce keeps the tortillas from getting hard and chewy.

Bake for 25 minutes.


How do you fight acid reflux?

Plant-Based Zucchini Bread

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Dessert breads have been the bane of my vegan existence. My mom used to make amazing banana bread growing up, and since we’ve transitioned into a plant-based lifestyle, it’s been very difficult to find a good bread recipe. It’s either been dense and dry, or runny no matter how long I cook it. I had almost given up.

But yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of breadlessness, I will fear no famine for He with me. Give us this day our daily bread.  Or something like that.

I have been a fan of zucchini for some time because it can be eaten raw (raw lasagna, anyone?), sauteed, baked, steamed, you name it. I’ve been looking for a good zucchini bread recipe for a few months, and I was delighted to find a vegan recipe for zucchini bread that didn’t use oil or vegan butter. It’s all plant-based ingredients!

This is not my personal recipe. I changed a few things from Will Cook for Friends‘ recipe, so check her blog out! This bread is moist, rich, and makes for an amazing breakfast.

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Zucchini Bread
(Adapted from Willow Arlen from Will Cook For Friends)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBSP ground flax meal (and 6 TBSP water)
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. honey
1 1/2 cup grated zucchini (approx. 1 1/2 medium-size zucchinis)
1/3 c chopped roasted almonds

Preheat oven to 350f.

Combine flax and water to make a “flax egg.”   Set aside to gel while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a large bowl.

Grate zucchini.  My zucchini wasn’t quite grated–it was cut into 1-inch slivers from my Salad Master.

Add applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla extract to the flax egg, and whisk until combined. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix.

Add grated zucchini and almonds, and stir until completely mixed.

Pour into a loaf pan or an 8-inch cake pan, and bake for 50 minutes.  It will be done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Slice and serve to hungry husbands.

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What’s your favorite thing to do with zucchini?

Super Creamy Hot Chocolate


With the reversal of global warming this week across the United States, there has been a lot of warm cooking going in my kitchen.  For some reason, I always make my friend’s curry when it’s blustery and bleak outside.  I also make homemade hot chocolate (which is way, way, way better in taste and nutrition than processed sugar powder!) and remember why I love winter.

This week is homecoming week at school, and I’m the cheer coach… so my main focus at home is to stay awake until 8 pm.  Did I mention we have morning practices?

So the other night, my wonderful husband volunteered to make the hot chocolate, and his recipe turned out to be the best to date!  All credit goes to JD for this mouth-watering, thick, super creamy hot chocolate.

You probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen already, so it’s fine by me if you continue reading this as you throw things in a blender!  Just remember it’s hot before you attempt to guzzle it.

 Super Creamy Hot Chocolate
Makes 2 mugs

3 c. coconut milk
2 tbs. dark chocolate chips
2 heaping tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbs. maple syrup

Heat milk on the stove at medium heat.  While heating, drop chocolate chips in the pot and stir often.

Once chocolate is melted and milk is warm enough, pour milk in blender and add cocoa powder and maple syrup.

Blend the mixture until fluffy, creamy, and foamy.  Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!


What’s your favorite winter treat?