a balanced plate with room for dessert

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Niu Rou Mien (Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup)

I’ve realized that some dishes are just better when my mom makes it. My mission this time was to replicate the delicious beef noodle dish I ate growing up – niu rou mien. I asked her for a recipe, and she told me to just come over and watch her make it and take notes. She ended up sending me an email with a rough draft of a recipe; I’ve done my best to assign amounts to the various ingredients.

This recipe is long. It has many, many ingredients. I thought about finding shortcuts, but I honestly don’t think there are any. This recipe is truly a labor of love and it’s not something you can cheat and simplify without sacrificing taste.

One thing I noticed from pouring over niu rou mien recipes is that most of them instructed you to boil the beef to get rid of the impurities. If you have bone-in meat, you’ll want to make sure you boil it or you will end up with a film of gunk on your finished product. And that would be a major bummer after you spent all that time prepping and cooking, right?

This dish is my childhood in a bowl. And I’m so happy that I have been able to recreate it in my kitchen.

Niu Rou Mien (Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup) |


Slow Cooker Niu Rou Mian (Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup)

3 pounds beef shank and/or chuck roast  (I used 1 1/2 pounds each)
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2-inch piece ginger, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fermented black beans
2 teaspoons five spice powder
2 tablespoons Sichuan bean sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce
1/2 cup Shaoxing wine (vodka, vermouth, or sherry will also work)
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon rock sugar
2 cups beef broth
2 tomatoes, quartered
5 green onions, cut into thirds
3 dried chili peppers, optional
8 hard boiled eggs, peeled
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
5 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
5 large carrots, sliced

for serving:
baby bok choy, blanched
noodles of choice, cooked (I prefer medium-width Chinese noodles)
green onions, thinly sliced
rice wine vinegar
pickled mustard greens, recipe below

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add beef and reduce to a simmer. Cook until beef is cooked all the way through. Skim off the impurities floating on top of the water. Remove beef and reserve the cooking water.
  2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. Brown the beef on all sides. Remove beef from pot and place into the bottom of a slow cooker.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger into the pot and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the black beans, five spice powder, Sichuan bean sauce, and hot chili sauce and stir to combine. Stir in the Shaoxing wine, both types of soy sauce, and rock sugar and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Pour mixture on top of the beef.
  4. Add in the beef stock, tomatoes, green onions, chili peppers, and hardboiled eggs. Add the Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves (optional: combine these ingredients in a cheesecloth and tie it up to make removing all the little pieces a bit easier at the end.) Top everything off with stock and six cups of the reserved cooking water (or use 8 cups of beef stock). Cover and cook on low for 5 – 6 hours or until the meat is tender. Add carrots and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until carrots are tender. Taste and add more soy sauce if necessary.
  5. To serve, place noodles in a bowl and top with bok choy. Ladle scoops of the beef stew on top. Garnish with green onions and the pickled mustard greens relish. Top with a splash of rice wine vinegar, if desired.

Pickled Mustard Greens Relish

10.5 ounce package mustard greens
2 hot chili peppers
2 tablespoons sugar

  1. Rinse the pickled mustard greens and soak in water for 30 minutes. Change the water twice during this time period to get rid of excess salt.
  2. Dice the mustard greens into pea-sized pieces.
  3. Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat and add the mustard greens. Cook for 2 minutes. Add in chili peppers and sugar and stir until sugar is evenly distributed. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until water has evaporated.
  4. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator in an air-tight jar.


recipes slightly adapted from my Mama’s recipe

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SNAP Challenge Day 6 (+ chicken taco soup)

SNAP Challenge Day 6 |

Mike and I were out running errands today and ended up at the mall around lunch time. We had been out all morning running from store to store looking at flooring. By the time we got to the mall to look at some clothes for Mike, we were hungry and tired. Mostly hungry. As we walked around, the smells from the food court, the samples from the pretzel shops and coffee shops tempted us.

It was so hard to walk past everything. I was speed walking as fast as I could manage to get away from whatever tempting food was lurking in the area. The chicken taco soup we had for lunch was so good after spending two hours in that Sbarro-Panda Express-Auntie Anne’s haze.

For the soup, I used farmers’ market sweet corn and just barely cooked it so that it still retained its delicious crunch. If you don’t have any fresh corn on hand, 1 1/2 cups of frozen corn will work just fine. But nothing will ever beat good ol’ Wisconsin sweet corn!

Today we ate:

Breakfast: oatmeal with egg (me), oatmeal with agave (Mike)
Lunch: chicken taco soup
Snack: peanut butter toast
Dinner: spaghetti with zucchini and tomatoes in a creamy lemon-yogurt sauce (check back Monday for the recipe!)
Snack: peanut butter toast with banana

Chicken Taco Soup |

Chicken Taco Soup

3 chicken breasts
olive oil spray
2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 –  2 jalapenos, minced
2 bell peppers, chopped
8 ounce can tomato sauce
2 – 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 – 14.5 ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
5 cups chicken broth
2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed
garnishes (optional): shredded cheddar, nonfat plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream), cilantro, jalapeno slices, diced avocados, tortilla chips

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a baking pan with olive oil.
  2. In a small bowl, combine chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Sprinkle a little bit of the mixture of the chicken breasts and set the rest of the spice mixture aside. Bake chicken in preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until cooked through. Shred chicken with two forks.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large pot over medium heat and spray with olive oil. Add in onions, garlic, and jalapenos. Cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining spice mixture and stir to evenly distribute. Stir in tomato sauce, bell pepper, diced tomatoes, and beans. Stir in chicken broth and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in shredded chicken and corn and cook for an additional 2 minutes to heat chicken through.
  4. Serve soup hot with desired toppings.


recipe slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman

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Vegan Lentil and Kale Soup

I drift between longing for warmer spring weather and hoping that this cold lasts forever. There are times when I actually love the cold – for a few hours a week, I really, really appreciate the cold weather because I run faster and stronger in it. The warmer it gets, the more I slow down… and the more water I need to carry to counter my very unladylike sweating.

Another reason to love the cold? Soup. Big, steaming bowls of heart-warming soup.

Vegan Lentil & Kale Soup |

Vegan Lentil and Kale Soup
serves 4 – 6

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups dried green lentils
8 cups vegetable stock
1 – 15 ounce can light coconut milk
6 cups torn kale

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add in onions, garlic, celery, and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in garam masala, cumin, chili powder, red pepper flakes, cardamom, salt and pepper until well combined. Stir in lentils and vegetable stock. Bring soup to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Let cook for 30 minutes or until lentils are cooked through.
  3. Stir in coconut milk and kale. Let simmer for a minute to warm the coconut milk and slightly wilt the kale. Serve immediately.

recipe adapted from the Good Food cart

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Lightened Up Lasagna Soup

Soup is great for cold, snowy days. Soup is also good for men who have had their wisdom teeth out. Mike lived off of chocolate ice cream, chocolate pudding, and chocolate protein shakes for a day. Chocolate is good and all, but I’m pretty sure there is a limit to how much chocolate a person can consume. I decided to make some lasagna soup for Mike to try. I knew I could cook the veggies and noodles long enough to make them extra soft and manageable for my wisdom tooth-less husband. For me? I kept my noodles al dente. But I’m not dealing with major jaw pain and all.

LIghtened Up Lasagna Soup {dairy free} |

Since this soup doesn’t have cheese it’s really not much like lasagna at all. But hey, it was tasty and I didn’t really miss the cheese. But the lack of cheese and the use of a lower-fat turkey sausage versus a pork sausage means fewer fat and calories. Tasty, healthy, and a perfect comfort food.

Lightened Up Lasagna Soup
serves 8

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1.25 pounds Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
3 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
15 ounce can tomato sauce
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 ounces lasagna noodles, broken into 2-inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, diced

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add turkey break it into bite-sized pieces. Cook until browned and cooked through, 4 – 6 minutes. Drain excess fat from pan.
  2. Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer for 15 minutes. Add in broken lasagna noodles and bell pepper and cook until pasta is al dente.
  3. Remove bay leaves before serving.

slightly adapted from the Deen Bros

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Chicken (or Turkey) Dumpling Soup

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I am always with those that I love, surrounded by tons of good food. I’ll be honest – I really don’t like turkey that much. Thanksgiving meals are all about the side dishes to me. Stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, veggies… those are the dishes that take up prime real estate on my plate. Buried underneath all that goodness will be the smallest piece of turkey possible.

I actually made this chicken and dumpling soup a couple weeks ago after a business trip. During my trip, I ate a small-town family restaurant and got their chicken dumpling soup. It was pretty disappointing – watery with a million tasteless dumplings and no chicken whatsoever. When I finally got home, I had two things on my to-do list: 1) Give Mike a kiss and 2) Make some chicken dumpling soup. Let me tell you – this recipe was a million times better than the restaurant stuff. I’m hoping to make this soup again with leftover turkey – I imagine that the results would be just as tasty.

Chicken or Turkey Dumpling Soup |

Chicken or Turkey Dumpling Soup

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 large carrots, chopped
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

for the dumplings:
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk

  1. Place chicken, broth and water in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until chicken is cooked all the way through. Remove chicken from the pot and set aside. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add in onion, garlic, celery and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally,  for 5 – 7 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Transfer cooked vegetables into broth.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and 1/2 cup water until well combined. Whisk in ground mustard and thyme. Add mixture to broth and add in bay leaves and shredded chicken. Bring soup to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. While soup is simmering, make the dumplings: Whisk together flour, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Whisk in almond milk until combined.
  5. Once soup has cooked for 15 minutes, bring it back to a boil. Drop dumpling dough by tablespoons into the soup. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through. Remove bay leaves before serving.

adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

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African Chicken Peanut Stew

This delicious stew was accompanied by one of my biggest cooking fails. Ever.

I’ve had this recipe on my “to-cook” list forever. I was inspired by a local restaurant, Buraka. They have to-die-for peanut stew and they serve it with really, really great injera. For those of you who haven’t had injera, it’s an Ethiopian flatbread that has a spongy texture and a bit of a tang. Like a cross between a pancake, crepe and… sourdough bread? I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s awesome.

Sadly, Buraka was forced to close at the end of October. The building it was in is being torn down and turned into another residential building. Sigh. To make it worse, two more of my fave Madison restaurants were also displaced because of this – Husnu’s and Kabul. This closing meant the end of any peanut stew and injera deliciousness. So, I set off to recreate it. I was partly successful. The stew was pretty good. The injera? A total fail. As in – the smell and taste of it made me want to curl up into a ball and die. I obviously won’t be sharing the injera recipe with you today (or ever – I don’t think I’ll attempt it again), but I do have the chicken peanut stew for you.

African Peanut Stew |

African Chicken Peanut Stew

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 large onion, chopped
3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 – 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1 cup roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons cayenne, or to taste
salt and freshly ground black peppers
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

cooked rice, for serving

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Salt chicken pieces and, working in batches, brown them in the oil. It’s important that you don’t overcrowd the pot. Set the browned chicken aside.
  2. In the pot, saute the onions for 3 – 4 minutes, scraping the browned pieces off the bottom of the pot as you cook. Add in the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute.
  3. Add in sweet potatoes, chicken broth, tomatoes, peanut butter, peanuts, coriander and cayenne and stir well to combine. Taste the sauce, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Place chicken pieces into the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook for about an hour, or until the chicken is fully cooked and sweet potatoes are tender.
  4. Remove chicken pieces to a bowl and let cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken and place back into the pot. Stir in cilantro and serve hot with rice.

recipe slightly adapted from Simply Recipes

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Dairy Free Zuppa Toscana

This soup is my take on Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana without all the dairy. This soup is one of the few things I actually like from OG. I was worried that it wouldn’t taste as good, but it completely met all my expectations. I got the idea to make this soup when a reader suggested that I make a kale and bean soup with my leftover kale.

Dairy Free Zuppa Toscana (Italian Sausage & Kale Soup) |

Dairy Free Zuppa Toscana

1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 medium russet potatoes, cubed into 1/2 – 3/4″ pieces
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 – 15 ounce can white beans (such as great northern or cannellini), drained and rinsed
4 cups dino kale leaves, washed, dried and chopped (or spinach)
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
6 pieces crisp cooked bacon, crumbled

  1. Brown sausage in a dutch oven over medium-high heat, breaking it up as it cooks. When sausage is browned, add in onions, garlic, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook until onions are translucent, about 3 – 5 minutes.
  2. Add in potatoes and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are almost fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Add in beans and kale and cook for an additional 5 – 10 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender. 
  3. Stir in almond milk and allow to heat through. Serve hot with bacon sprinkled on top.