Category Archives: Appetizers

Orange Cauliflower Soup

I love it when a new idea comes together on the first try and is a hit with the family. I just decided to make a cauliflower soup today because I had a head of cauliflower and I needed to make something with it before it was no longer edible. A nice soup came to mind because although we have been having nice warm weather during the day it is a little chilly at night. Besides, I can eat soup any day of the year because I just love soup!

I am calling this one Orange Cauliflower Soup because I used diced red peppers in the soup which made it turn a pale orange color. I was not sure how everyone else would react to the color but I liked it so….. Orange Cauliflower Soup was born. Just making cauliflower soup was not enough. I wanted to add a slight richness to the soup and decided what better way to make it taste rich without a ton of calories than to add a little cheese. I think I have had cheesy cauliflower soup in the past but it was a little too rich for my blood. Adding just a little cheese keeps the calories down, adds thickness to the soup and definitely adds another level of flavor.

Whenever I put together a post I have to set up the food and take pictures of each step of the process. The last step of course is taking a picture of the finished product. After taking a picture of my new creation I figured I would clean up the kitchen so that I could enjoy a bowl of soup without thinking about the slight mess I had made. Well, my youngest son descended upon the kitchen with his girlfriend and immediately wanted to know if I had taken my last picture of the soup. I didn’t think he wanted to eat it (silly me) but he asked if he could taste it. Of course I said sure since I always need a taste tester for my recipes. The first words out of his mouth were “This is what I am going to miss!” That put a smile on my face because he is headed to college in a few months and I know he is going to miss my home cooking. My smile got even bigger when his girlfriend asked if she could try it and again I said sure. She said it was delicious and being the mom that I am I told her to take some home. Seems the soup fairy was on my side today and gave me a hit recipe on the first try. Thanks soup fairy!

Orange Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients:

1 medium head of cauliflower cut into small pieces

1 small onion diced

½ red pepper diced

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup water

1 cup milk

1 cup shredded monterey and/or Colby jack cheese

1 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tsp parsley

½ tsp basil

½ tsp red pepper flakes

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add diced onions and red peppers. Saute until slightly browned. Add seasonings and stir. Add cauliflower and stir to mix with onions and peppers. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and water. Stir then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cover. Let simmer until cauliflower is soft. Using an immersion blender, blend cauliflower until smooth but leave a few florets to create texture. Turn heat down to low.

In a small pan melt butter and add flour. Whisk until flour and butter are blended and form a paste. Add milk and whisk until sauce is thickened. Season with a little season salt and black pepper. Add white sauce to cauliflower and whisk to blend. Stir in cheese. Continue stirring until cheese is well blended into the soup. Taste to see if a little more salt or black pepper is needed.

Enjoy!

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Lentil and Carrot Ginger Soup

Sometimes you just have to cheat. Not cheat other people or cheat in the sense of doing something wrong. I mean cheat by not making everything from scratch. Making my Lentil and Carrot Ginger Soup was one of those times I decided to cheat. At least, partially. This soup is a combination of dried lentils and a box of carrot and ginger soup.

I am not usually a fan of boxed soups but Trader Joe’s has a nice brand of soups I have used in other recipes upon occasion. I have passed over their Carrot and Ginger soup many times but decided to take a chance on combining it with the lentil soup I make for me and hubby.

Creating soup is about building flavors. Combining the light flavor of lentils with the sweet taste of carrots along with the sharp taste of ginger spells yummy. Being the carnivore that I am, I added diced pancetta to build even more flavor. My vegetarian brethern can keep it simple and not include meat in this soup. But, if you are not opposed to meat, I think you will enjoy the flavors and texture with the pancetta. Add some crusty bread on the side of your bowl and you will have a wonderful hearty soup for those chilly or even warm days.

Lentil and Carrot Ginger Soup

Ingredients:

4 cups chicken broth

1 ½ – 2 cups dried yellow lentils (rinsed in cold water)

1 cup shredded carrots

1 cup cubed pancetta (optional)

½ cup diced onions

1 box Carrot Ginger Soup (Trader Joe’s)

1tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp salt

½ tbsp ground black pepper

½ tbsp Adobo seasoning

1 tsp dried parsley

¼ tsp cumin

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Place olive oil, pancetta, onions and carrots in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the carrots, onions and pancetta for about 3 – 5 minutes stirring frequently. Add broth, seasonings and lentils to the pot and let simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally. Add a little water if the soup gets too thick during the 30 minutes. After 30 minutes stir in the box of carrot and ginger soup. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for an additional 20 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread or croutons.

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Louisiana Style Soup

During the summer months I often have a taste for gumbo or jambalaya but those dishes can be a little heavy. So, to compensate and satisfy my taste buds, I will make a Louisiana Style Soup in warmer weather. This soup is much lighter than gumbo or jambalaya but it has similar flavors.

Creole food is the soul food of the south mid-west. Creole cooking is a blend of French, Spanish, Caribbean, West African, Portuguese and several other country cuisines. While Cajun dishes originate from a style of cooking by French speaking Acadians that were exiled to Louisiana. (a partial history lesson). Many people think there is no difference between Creole and Cajun foods but there really is a difference. The biggest difference is that Creole cuisines use tomatoes in most dishes while Cajun cuisines do not. Another difference is how each prepares a roux or thickening for dishes like jambalaya. A Creole roux is made with butter and flour while a Cajun roux is made with oil and flour. It may not sound like a big difference but it is when you are talking about flavors.

One more interesting tidbit about Creole vs. Cajun dishes is that Creole cooking is considered “city” food while Cajun cooking is considered “country” food. Hmmm… that may explain why hubby really likes Creole cooking while I enjoy Cajun foods. He is more of a city boy who loves tomatoes while I am a country girl at heart who just loves food.

Louisiana Style Soup

Ingredients:

1 pkg spicy ground sausage

1 cup frozen okra

1 cup frozen baby lima beans

1 cup corn cut off the cob or frozen corn

1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes

2 scallions diced

1 celery stalk diced

1 small green pepper diced

1 small white onion diced

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground ginger

Brown spicy ground sausage in a large pot over medium heat. Remove from pot and drain on paper towels. Add butter to the pan along with green pepper, celery and onion. Season with salt and black pepper then saute for a few minutes until vegetables soften.

Add remaining ingredients to the pot along with sausage. Stir to blend then reduce heat and let simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Serve with rice or top with garlic croutons.

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Prawns and Avocado

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, my hubby and I enjoyed a delicious lunch appetizer called Prawns and Avocado. I was hesitant to order the dish at first because I sometimes have a reaction to shrimp but I decided to give it a try. Boy was I glad I did. The appetizer was so refreshing.

The dices of avocado were fresh and the prawns were soft and sweet. I have to admit it was difficult sharing the appetizer with hubby after I took the first bite. Fortunately for hubby, I love him dearly so I did share two pieces. After we both looked at the empty plate we agreed I should try replicating the appetizer once we got back home. I wasn’t able to get the exact recipe from the chef so I recreated Prawns and Avocado from a photo I took with my phone. Yes, it looked so appetizing and tasted so good I took a picture before we gobbled them all up.

My version of Prawns and Avocado is not quite like the wonderful dish we enjoyed in Puerto Rico but it is pretty darn close. There definitely is a difference between the shrimp I get at the local market but the flavor is similar.

Remembering how the appetizer was described on the menu helped me keep the recipe simple. Prawns (shrimp), avocado, red onion, lime juice and cilantro was all I needed to make this tasty treat pop!

Ahhh…. the memories.

Prawns and Avocado

Ingredients:

½ avocado diced

½ lb medium cooked shrimp cut in half

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tsp fresh cilantro chopped

1 tbsp red onion diced small

1 tbsp olive oil

½ tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

3 dashes hot sauce

1 baguette or ciabatta bread sliced

Place shrimp in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, red onion, cilantro, lime juice and hot sauce. Stir to mix. Set aside.

Place avocado in a medium sized bowl along with lemon juice and a pinch of season salt. Mash the avocado until smooth but leave a few chunky pieces. Spread avocado over bread slices. Top with shrimp mixture. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

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Salads

Today’s post is dedicated to Salads. Salads are on our dinner table almost every night mostly because they are Healthy, Quick and Easy. Basic lettuce and tomato salads are a little too plain to make it on our table. I prefer adding various ingredients that touch on the five food groups which are vegetables, dairy, grains, fruit and protein.

I have to admit in my early days of cooking I made a lot of plain salads. I thought I was spicing it up if I added avocado or seasoned croutons. I didn’t start experimenting with making more robust salads until I expanded my dining choices from food chain restaurants (no offense) to downtown restaurants with new age names (again, no offense) like “Planet One Bistro” which featured out of this world meals. Cute right? Okay, I made the name up because I didn’t want my local restaurants to be mad at me for saying their name was “new age”.

Building a salad is like creating a work of art. Various colors, textures, shapes and sizes blend together into a beautiful edible piece of art both pleasing to the eyes and mouth. One of my signature salads is one made with a 50/50 mix of greens, bright red tomatoes, English cucumbers, deep blue blueberries, shaved parmesan cheese, croutons and crumbed bacon. I top it off with my favorite dressing Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing and Marinade. Yummy! My Big Salad is also a family favorite.

If you ask me, it is hard to make a bad salad. No matter what you add to a salad it is a reflection of you and your taste in food. So, go crazy and create your own master piece salad. It’s sure to get rave reviews.

Salads

Ingredients:

Fruity Salad:

1 bag 50/50 mixed greens

2 roma tomatoes cut into quarters then sliced

¼ English cucumber cut in half then sliced

¼ cup blueberries (sliced strawberries and raspberries optional)

¼ cup walnuts

¼ cup kalamata olives

¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese

parmesan flavored croutons

Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing and Marinade

Avocado Salad:

1 bag 50/50 mixed greens

2 roma tomatoes cut into quarters then sliced

1 ripe avocado cut half then sliced

¼ English cucumber cut in half then sliced

¼ cup walnuts

¼ cup kalamata olives

¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese

ranch flavored croutons

Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing and Marinade

Mushroom and Egg Salad:

1 bag 50/50 mixed greens

4 large baby bella mushrooms sliced

2 roma tomatoes cut into quarters then sliced

2 boiled eggs diced

2 slices bacon cooked and chopped

¼ English cucumber cut in half then sliced

¼ cup kalamata olives

¼ cup crumbled feta or goat cheese

seasoned croutons

Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing and Marinade

Layer the ingredients for each salad into two bowls. Top with Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing and Marinade or your favorite salad dressing.

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Panzanella Salad

I had never heard of a Panzanella Salad until I saw a cooking challenge on television. The amateur chef was Italian and decided to make a Panzanella Salad because ingredients were limited and time was short. After all, it was a challenge.

Salads in general don’t take long to pull together and Panzanella Salad fits that bill. The most time consuming part of making this salad is crisping up the bread cubes. Of course, if you are really short on time you could use prepared toasted bread cubes or even croutons. In a pinch use whatever is quick. I like crisping up my own bread cubes because I like to use different types of bread when making this salad. Ciabatta, sour dough bread or even a french baguette are a few of my favorites. One day I want to try and use cornbread but I am afraid it may come out mushy. I will let you know once I figure it out.

I took a few liberties with my version of Panzanella Salad by adding vegetables not included in the traditional versions (there are many versions of the traditional salad in the universe). The straight forward version does not use peppers or meat. I wanted the salad to be colorful since we often eat with our eyes. My family and I are meat eaters. Plain and simple. We love veggies and can go a few days without eating meat but we always go back to eating fish, fowl, pork and sometimes beef. I offer no apologies to my vegetarian friends. Adding meat is optional.

Like I always say …. make this recipe your own. I did!

Panzanella Salad

Ingredients:

2 – 3 cups cubed ciabatta, sour dough bread or french baguette

3 pearl tomatoes cut into wedges

3 slices prosciutto torn into pieces (optional)

1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in half

1 English cucumber

3 oz fresh mozzarella torn into pieces

3 oz fresh feta cubed

½ red pepper seeded and cut into chunks

½ yellow pepper seeded and cut into chunks

½ orange pepper seeded and cut into chunks

½ cup kalamata olives pitted

¼ cup red onion thinly sliced

¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese (garnish)

4 tbsp olive oil

Dressing:

½ cup olive oil

½ cup red wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic minced

1tsp salt

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp Dijon mustard

½ tsp ground black pepper

pinch red pepper flakes

Place ingredients into a small jar and shake to blend. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes and allow to crisp up but not toast. Shake and toss the bread cubes to make sure they do not burn. Let cool and set aside.

Cut cucumber in half and scoop out the center then cut the cucumber into chunks. Place vegetables in a large bowl. Add prosciutto, feta, mozzarella cheese pieces and bread cubes. Shake dressing then pour over salad and gently toss to combine all the ingredients. Set salad aside for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours so that the flavors blend together. Sprinkle with shaved parmesan cheese for garnish.

 

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Crostini Delights

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Not too long ago I was watching an episode of the Sandwich King on the Food Network channel and he gave me an idea for a recipe. Granted, his version of a steak crostini was much more high end than mine but I would put my Crostini Delights up against his any day. No Jeff Mauro, that is not a challenge.

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My family is not big on eating beef so making a light dish with a little beef was right up my alley. Crostini Delights can easily be adapted to whatever you like on slices of french bread. Before I made my Crostini Delights for my hubby he only raved about having bruschetta which I layered on thin slices of french bread. Now, he raves about the “Delights”.

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On the Sandwich King, the host flashed fried thin slices of filet mignon and built layers of meat, pesto, rosemary, gorgonzola cheese and sliced cherry tomatoes. Like I said, his version is high end. My version uses deli slices of London broil instead of filet mignon which still has great flavor and is very tender. To make the crostinis my own I paired different ingredients to create a melt in your mouth treat. Put this recipe on the list for your next dinner party as an appetizer and I am sure your guests will be raving about the great taste of the Crostini Delights.

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Crostini Delights

 Ingredients:

1 thin crusty french bread loaf

½ lb deli sliced London broil

¼ lb sliced provolone cheese

2 Roma tomatoes sliced then cut in half

½ cup gorgonzola cheese

¼ cup BBQ sauce

basil leaves

olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice entire french bread loaf at an angle to create bite sized pieces of sliced. Drizzle olive oil over each slice of bread. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 5-8 minutes until bread is lightly browned. Remove from oven.

While bread is baking, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Pour BBQ sauce around the bottom of the pan then add the slices of London broil. Quickly toss the meat in the warm pan until well coated with sauce. Turn off heat.

Once the bread is lightly browned layer each slice with gorgonzola cheese, London broil, a basil leaf, two pieces of tomato then top with a little provolone cheese. Place back in the oven for a few minutes until the provolone cheese melts. Serve immediately.

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White Bean Chicken Soup

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OMGoodness! It is COLD today so what better time to make a big pot of soup. That is exactly what I said to myself on the way to Trader Joe’s to pick up a few items for dinner. I might not have felt so chilled if I had cranked up the heat in the car but that still would not have warmed me on the inside. To make that happen I needed a nice bowl of homemade soup.

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My choice was either chicken noodle soup or a White Bean Chicken soup. I planned to have spaghetti the next day for dinner so chicken noodle soup was out and White Bean Chicken soup was in. Keep in mind I did not have a recipe for White Bean Chicken soup but not having an actual recipe has never stopped me from cooking. So, while strolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s I made up the recipe that would become “the soup”.

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Most soups are pretty easy to make. They are a one pot dish that only needs a little tender love and care and lots of seasoning. Because it was freezing outside I was in the mood for a healthy, hearty soup. I figured the white beans and chicken would make it hearty plus filling with lots of protein while the mirepoix and cabbage would make it healthy. Did I just hear someone say what the heck is mirepoix? Yes, I did. It was my hubby. He asked me this question while I was writing down the recipe when I got home. I was talking out loud to myself trying to remember how to spell mirepoix and hubby asked “What the heck is that?” When I told him it was diced carrots, onions and celery he said “Why don’t you just say that?” My response was I wanted to sound fancy like the chefs on TV. I know. It is always better to keep it simple.

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Simply put, White Bean Chicken Soup is comfort food. Whether it is freezing cold outside or you want a flavorful homemade meal in a bowl, this soup will do the trick.

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White Bean Chicken Soup

 Ingredients:

3 cans cannellini beans rinsed

1pkg sliced pepper chicken

1 container mirepoix (diced onions, celery and carrots)

6 cups low sodium chicken broth

2 cups chopped cabbage

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

½ tbsp Adobo

1 tsp thyme

½ tsp garlic powder

1 tsp parsley

1 tsp black pepper

½ tsp lemon pepper

Shred chicken and set aside. Mash ½ cup of white beans (this will help soup to thicken) and set aside with remaining beans.

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add mirepoix and seasonings to the pot and stir. Allow the vegetables to sweat for 3 – 5 minutes. Pour in chicken broth and add white beans then stir. Reduce heat to medium. Mix a spoonful of broth into the measured heavy cream. Add the mixture to the pot. Stir and let simmer 3 minutes.

Place chicken in the pot and stir. Cook for 20 minutes then add chopped cabbage. Stir to mix in the cabbage. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes until cabbage is softened and cooked through. Serve with crackers or crusty bread.

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Roasted Tomato Salad

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Fruits and vegetables all have a “season”.  Meaning, there are certain times of the year when fruits and vegetables are at their best and taste fantastic. Living on the east coast, I find tomatoes are at their best during the summer and early fall months. I grow a lot of different types of tomatoes in the summer and miss them when they are gone.

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Of course, just because the seasons change it does not mean you cannot get good tasting vegetables. However, you have to be careful because “out of season” vegetables like tomatoes can lack flavor and may not have a nice texture inside. Even tomatoes imported from warmer climates may not live up to east coast summer tomatoes. For that reason, I sometimes like to roast tomatoes to bring out their natural sweetness. Roasted Tomato Salad is wonderful because the roasted tomatoes add a nice kick of flavor to the salad.

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My Roasted Tomato Salad is nutritious and full of savory and slightly sweet flavors. Salads are a very personal dish because you can combine all of your favorite vegetables, fruits, nuts and meats. Or, you can keep it simple with only lettuce and roasted tomatoes.

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Roasted Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

2 bunches romaine lettuce chopped

6 -8 plum tomatoes cut into wedges

3 slices prosciutto chopped (optional)

½ red onion sliced thinly

¼ cup black olives

¼ cup shaved parmesan cheese

¼ cup Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing and Marinade

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp oregano

1 tsp salt

1 black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss tomatoes with red onion slices and season with olive oil, salt, black pepper and oregano. Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with cooking spray and then spread tomatoes and onions on the cookie sheet. Roast for 30 – 45 minutes until browned and/or slightly charred (based on your preference). Let cool for 10 minutes.

Toss cooled roasted tomatoes with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Serve as a main dish or nice appetizer.

 

 

 

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Tomato Soup

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My Tomato Soup is not like your popular brand of canned tomato soup. It is much better. At least that is what my hubby thinks. After eating two bowls of my Tomato Soup he proclaimed it was the best soup I had made to date and he enjoys all of my homemade soups.

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Using a combination of fresh and canned tomatoes makes this soup tasty and gives it texture. I like smooth soups but I also enjoy soups with a little texture which lets you know what kind of soup you are eating.

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A good test of whether or not a soup is blog worthy for me is if I want to dip a sandwich into it. At the very least, a good test is if I want to take that last piece of bread and run it around the bowl to get every last bit of soup. By those standards this soup was fantastic! Not only did I dip my sandwich into it, I licked my fingers to get the few drops that landed there after dipping. Yum! Yum!

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Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

6 large vine ripened or plum tomatoes peeled

1 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes

1 14 oz can spicy red tomatoes

2 scallions sliced

½ red onion sliced

½ white onion sliced

1 cup chicken broth

½ cup shaved Parmesan cheese

½ cup ½ and ½

¼ cup heavy cream

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp seasoned salt

1 tbsp dried basil

1 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dried parsley

½ tsp lemon pepper

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp thyme

½ tsp onion powder

½ tsp dried dill weed

pinch of sugar.

Boil about 4 cups of water. Place fresh tomatoes in a large pot and pour boiling water over tomatoes for easy peeling.  Rough chop the tomatoes.

Place peeled tomatoes and all other ingredients except the Parmesan cheese, heavy cream and ½ and ½ into a large pot. Simmer over medium heat for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from the heat. Use an immersion blender to blend soup until it is smooth but still has some texture. You can also place the tomato mixture into a blender to smooth out the veggies then place back into the pot.

Stir in heavy cream and ½ and ½. Place pot back on the heat and reduce heat to medium low. Add parmesan cheese to the pot and stir for 1 – 2 minutes until the cheese melts and is incorporated into the soup. Simmer an additional 15 minutes.

Serve with a nice crusty piece of bread to sop up all the tomato soup goodness!

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