Heirloom Tomato Soup: Cheap and Guiltless

Heirloom Tomato Soup

As the weather gets cooler I find myself craving warm comfort. I’ve said it before and ill say it again, soup is the starving artist’s secret weapon: low cost, high yield, mega satisfying. Lately I’ve been eating my stress, which is never good. This weekend I decided I needed to make something warm, satisfying, and completely guilt free. I had grilled cheese on the brain (more on this in another post) and so I naturally thought of tomato soup. I tell you I was tempted to buy a box of Trader Joe’s tomato soup. Like, whatever, I just want soup, I don’t care. And then I came to my senses and realized that for a few more dollars I could make a big pot of my own soup that would knock the pants off of TJ.

So here is what I purchased:

  • 1 package of TJ mini heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 24 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 box vegetable stock or broth
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh basil

And here’s what I used from my own pantry:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Kosher salt, crushed red pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sugar
  • Tomato paste (in a tube in my fridge)
  • 2 tsp dried basil
Heirloom Tomato Soup
Heirloom Tomato Soup

All I did was get my big enamel soup pot over medium high heat with just enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Toss in the heirloom tomatoes and let them heat up while you dice half the red onion (be sure to stir them around occasionally). Once the tomatoes have been heated for 8-10 minutes, add the onion with a good pinch of kosher salt, a few pinches of crushed red pepper, and the dried basil. Once the onions soften, use a garlic press to press in two cloves of fresh garlic right into the pot. Then add a good squeeze (about two tbsp) of tomato paste. Stir and cook for one minute then add the two cans of tomatoes, about 2 cups of the vegetable broth, bay leaves, and about two teaspoons of sugar. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves, add the fresh basil, and use a stick blender to puree to desired consistency. Feeds 4-6 people easily. Delicious, healthy, and totally homemade.

Serving suggestions/variations:

  • Adding a can of fire roasted tomatoes will add a new dimension of flavor to your soup
  • Using diced carrots along with the onions will contribute to sweetness and add more flavor
  • Try topping your bowl with some sliced avocado. Or, if you’re feeling indulgent, some grated gruyere cheese. Mmmmmm.

Smoked Salmon Snow Peas

Smokes Salmon Snow Peas

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Trader Joe’s? Roughly 3000 times you say? Well, brace yourself, here’s yet another reason why TJ’s is my favorite starving artist go-to. I love me some smoked salmon. In heaven I will eat a toasted bagel with cream cheese and lox every single day of eternity. Unfortunately, back in the mortal realm, smoked salmon is one of those pricey pay day items that requires a paycheck and some serious convincing. At least that’s what I thought until I discovered Trader Joe’s smoked sockeye salmon in a single pack for $4.99. At around 100 calories for the entire pack, it’s small enough to eat as the star of one’s dinner, but big enough that you could stretch it out for a tray of appetizers for a few friends.

For me I would just eat it straight from the package for an afternoon snack or throw it into some scrambled eggs for a light and protein-filled dinner. As an appetizer my default would be to reach for the Carr’s table water crackers, Philadelphia cream cheese, and capers… but I am far more conscious of my health these days and am always looking for ways to snack without too much danger (i.e. dairy and wheat). So, when I discovered that I had a bag of snow peas (also from TJ’s) in my fridge I thought, yes: crunch, flavor, nutrition, zero guilt, done. I simply took one or two peas and wrapped them in one of the thinly sliced pieces of fish. Cheap elegance. Now of course you very well could smear some cream cheese on these bad boys and no one would be upset. Or you could skip the cream cheese and dip them into soy sauce just like sushi…. or both…. mmmm….. And the good news is if you have more than a few friends to feed, it’s only $5 to buy a second pack. How could you go wrong? This is all yet more evidence that Trader Joe’s is likely a front for human trafficking or giant drug empire, but it’s so fantastic and affordable that we’re all just not questioning it.

Any other quick healthy snack ideas out there?

**Disclaimer: TJ’s is notorious for randomly not having items for indiscriminate spans of time (at least at the location near me). I’ve definitely gone for weeks without seeing the single, but it always comes back. The price may also go as high as $5.99 – still a bargain in my book.

More Ahi

Ahi_StirFryI get the feeling you’re all dying for more fresh ahi tuna. Well here it is. For the second of my two amazing tuna steaks, I decided to go even more simple and healthy. Behold, seared ahi with stir fried vegetables. In my wok I stir fried zucchini, then asparagus, then cremini mushrooms (removing each one to a bowl before adding the next). Once all were cooked to my liking, I returned all of them to the wok, added a pressed clove of garlic, a few squirts of Sriracha, and a generous helping of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (basically soy sauce that is gluten free and packed with protein).

If you read my last post, you know that I seared both steaks at the same time, used one right away, and kept another wrapped tightly in the fridge for later use. Both recipes I’ve shared would work equally well with either freshly cooked or chilled from the previous day. Totally up to you. I confess that in all actually these steaks could have easily been split up into four meals or at least shared with other friends…. however I just ate it all myself in two sittings. I mean, come on, how often does a starving artist get to enjoy himself like this? But I tell ya, now that I’ve done this once, I can’t wait to do it again with a group of friends. Especially those sandwiches.

One More Idea!!

So after I had already eaten the tuna as displayed in these two posts, I came up with another idea. If making sandwiches isn’t quite up your alley or you want to impress a dinner party with an amazing starter, try some ahi tuna lettuce wraps. Take your seared ahi steak (completely cooled) and mince it. Yes, chop it up really small. Place it in a bowl and toss with a pinch of kosher salt and a dash of sesame oil. Seal the bowl air tight and put it in the coldest part of your fridge for at least an hour. Meanwhile, get a head or two of iceburg lettuce, chop it in half, hollow it out so you’re left with a few layers of the big outside leaves (use what you removed for a salad later). Spice up 1/2 cup of soy sauce (or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos) with 1 tsp of prepared Wasabi in a tube (or powder, which ever your prefer). When you’re ready to eat, serve the ahi tuna in a bowl, super cold, with the lettuce leaves, spicy soy sauce, sesame seeds, and lemon on the side. Place about two tablespoons of the tuna in one of the lettuce leaves, top with the soy and the sesame seeds – an amazingly cool summer starter. Or, eat with some seaweed salad and miso soup from your favorite local sushi place for a light dinner. You will be so happy.

Also, if you’re feeling brave and/or you happen to get your hands on fresh Sushi grade tuna, skip the searing altogether and use completely raw tuna for this application. It’s amazing.

Hooray for pay day!

Pay Day Ahi

Ahi Avocado SandwichI know it’s common practice to associate “starving artist” with poverty. And rightfully so – I mean, they call it “starving” for a reason. This is no different for me, though, as you can see in this blog I am never *really* starving. And that’s because much of my life is spent being creatively frugal with what I find. But one of the things I love most about being a starving artist is that, every now and then, all the hard work and struggle pay off. The stars align, the paychecks roll in, and suddenly you find yourself with a bit of extra cash to spend. It’s a wonderful feeling. What’s even more wonderful is when you have enough cash to catch up on your bills and still have a bit left over to treat yourself to some divine cuisine.

July has found me in this very position and true to form, I have wasted no time in making a higher end food investment. Those of you who are loyal readers should be not at all surprised to find that it is seafood. One of my best friends, whether I’m rich or poor, is Costco, and one of the things that I’ve always looked longingly at is their fresh seafood counter. A bargain, yes, but still an initial investment beyond my normal budget… until a few days ago. I made two purchases. A beautiful large whole filet of wild caught sockeye salmon for $35. And a pack of two sizable fresh wild ahi tuna steaks for $20. Honestly, considering the purchase, these prices are a steal. Hefty, but not so much that I’m going to be totally broke and have nothing to do with it. And, what’s better, because there is so much, that means I have lots more to play with. Bargain AND multitasker? The starving artist’s dream.

For this post I’m focusing on the ahi. First, because I saw no point in freezing this gorgeous fish for later use, I decided instead to cook it right away and use it over the next few days in various ways. Cooking ahi is best kept simple – super super high heat, brush with a thin layer of olive oil, sear for two minutes on each side, done. No seasoning  (that comes later), no fuss, nice rare tuna with an even sear layer on all sides. Gorgeous.

Tonight I was inspired to make a sandwich. It turned out to be one of the best things ever created. The key? Simplicity. Above you see the fruits of my labor: seared ahi tuna sandwich with avocado and wasabi spread. Are you freaking out? You should be. Here’s the run down.

  • 2 slices of toasted Ezekiel bread (it’s flourless and low glycemic – try it)
  • 3 slices of ahi, cut against the grain, seasoned with kosher salt
  • sliced avocado, seasoned with kosher salt
  • 4-6 paper thin slices of cucumber (shave it with your vegetable peeler or use a food processor)
  • wasabi spread (1 tbs soy free veganaise, 1 tsp prepared wasabi, few drops soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, mix all ingredients thoroughly)

And that’s all there is, friends. Toast the bread, cover both slices with generous amounts of wasabi spread, layer on the tuna, the avocado, then the cucumber. Simple, elegant, and utterly divine. I won’t lie, I ate two of these, and also gave one to my roommate. It was so good that I felt he needed to experience it. And the best part? I still have another tuna steak!

Purple Smoothie

Purple SmoothieDid you know that foods that are naturally purple (like blueberries or acai berries) are exceptionally high in antioxidants are therefore are super good for you? It’s true. Back in 2010 when I first began my weight loss journey, before I discovered juicing, I would have a purple smoothie every morning with a slice of cinnamon raisin Ezekiel bread. It is such a good breakfast. In fact I may just have to start doing it again.

Blend all of the ingredients below in a magic bullet or whatever blender system you have. I specify the Sambazon variety of acai berry juice because this is the brand they carry at Costco – it’s 2 bottles for $10, whereas one bottle will run you around $7 at Whole Foods. I also get all my frozen berries at Costco. Usually I buy one of their huge bags of frozen strawberries and either frozen blackberries or whatever berry blend they have available. It lasts for weeks and is such a good bang for your buck. As far as bananas go, the more ripe the better. If you like your smoothies extra thick and cold you can freeze the bananas once they’re ripe and add them to  your smoothie that way. At the end of the day, it’s your smoothie, so put in whatever you like – I’d love to hear your variations!

The Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 cup Sambazon acai berry juice
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 fresh or frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen blackberries or blueberries
  • 1 large frozen strawberry
  • 1 generous squeeze of honey
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground flaxseed
  • pinch of old fashioned rolled oats
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp Greek yogurt (optional)

Now I am not an advocate of protein powders and the like because at the end of the day they are super processed products that your body will have trouble digesting. However, if you must, this smoothie will be a perfect vehicle for that or any kind of powdered or liquid supplement you take.