Rustic Tomato Soup

rustic tomato soup | sunsets on the side

rustic tomato soup | sunsets on the side

Back when I worked for a consumer goods company, the descriptive word we used to wrestle with the most when labeling food was “robust.”  Like, what does that word even mean?  (For the record, technically I guess it means, “strong and healthy“).

People consistently thought it was a super terrific word to describe food, but when we would ask focus groups to tell us what that word meant to them, the answers were usually pretty hilarious.  It was sort of obvious that we weren’t the only ones who couldn’t understand it in the context of food.

Similarly, I struggled when trying to name this soup.  My first draft called it “Pantry Tomato Soup” because that’s the beauty of this recipe: you probably already have everything you need to make it.  But, that made it sound like an instruction to go to your pantry and get out a can of tomato soup, which…wasn’t what I was going for. I love raw tomatoes, I love cooked tomatoes, I love roasted tomatoes, I love tomato sauce, I love homemade tomato soup.  But, I really (really) don’t like canned tomato soup or tomato juice.  Like, I can’t eat them at all.  What is that?  Weird.

So, I went with “rustic” because that’s exactly what it is: simple and uncomplicated.  This soup is thick, it’s rich, and it’s absolutely perfect for grilled cheese dunking.

Hopefully it even makes you feel robust.


rustic tomato soup | sunsets on the side

Rustic Tomato Soup
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Makes: 6 servings
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup finely chopped carrots
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15-oz) can tomato sauce
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • ¾ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  1. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until they are softened and starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.
  3. Pour in the wine, stir well, and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the wine is slightly reduced.
  4. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken stock, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and basil. Stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 40-45 minutes.
  5. Add the cream cheese, and stir until it melts completely into the soup. Garnish with more fresh basil and serve.


Blood Orange Mulled Wine

blood oranges for mulled wine | sunsets on the side

blood orange mulled wine | sunsets on the side

All signs point to it being citrus season around here.  Everywhere I look, there are tangerines and clementines and pomelos (oh my?).  I love it.  There’s just something so fresh about the taste and smell of citrus.  And, the fact that so much of it is grown locally is a total bonus.  This week, my favorite produce stand was practically spilling over with grapefruit and orange displays.  It was beautiful.

blood oranges for mulled wine | sunsets on the side

One of my favorite citrus fruits is the blood orange.  Have you ever had one?

They’re absolutely gorgeous, with a dark orange-red peel and thick, red juice.  They have a more interesting flavor than a typical orange.  Blood orange juice is sort of a darker, less sweet, more tart flavor.

It, conveniently, lends itself very well to a cocktail.

Actually, I feel like I can still taste a blood orange mimosa I had on our honeymoon.  A mid-morning brunch we had when we were on Maui is one of my most vivid memories from the trip.  There was an open-air restaurant – overlooking both a golf course and the pacific ocean, smoked salmon eggs benedict, the most perfect roasted potatoes, a warm breeze, my new husband, blood orange mimosas…

blood orange for mulled wine | sunsets on the side

Sorry, I’m sidetracked.  Where was I?

Right.  Blood oranges.

Today, since I’m celebrating citrus, and because it’s winter, let’s make a nice, warm mulled wine, what do you say?  And, while we’re at it, let’s fortify it with our mysterious and delicious blood oranges, some Grand Marnier to punch up the orange flavor, and some cinnamon sticks to spice everything ever so slightly.  This drink will warm you inside and out.

Oh, if I could offer one tip before I go?  Wear an apron.  Blood orange juice is only gorgeous when it’s in your mulled wine.  It is definitely not gorgeous when it’s on your favorite shirt.


Blood Orange Mulled Wine
Makes: 6 servings
  • 6 blood oranges
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier
  • 1 T. honey (more if you like it sweeter)
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  1. Remove the peel from three of the oranges. Set the peel aside and juice all six of the oranges (you should end up with about 1 ½ cups of juice).
  2. Pour the wine into a large pot. Add the blood orange juice, orange peels, Grand Marnier, honey, and cinnamon sticks. Stir to combine.
  3. Bring the wine to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Strain into a pitcher. Serve warm.

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

homemade cream of mushroom soup | sunsets on the side

homemade cream of mushroom soup | sunsets on the side

Soup is such a comfort food, but to me, it’s also comfort cooking.  There’s just something about standing over a hot, bubbling, (usually) garlic-scented pot, adding and stirring, until something delicious is ready to serve.  It makes the whole house smell incredible, and it’s like a giant bear hug for anyone who eats it.  What better soup to bear hug them with than homemade cream of mushroom?

This is a simple soup to put together, but somehow it seems impressive.  The delicate wine and thyme flavors bring a little bit of elegance to a very familiar soup.  This would make a great first course for a holiday meal.  You could even make it the day before your big meal and reheat it slowly on the stove just before you’d like to serve it.  Or, serve it in larger portions with some crusty garlic bread for a main course on any cold winter’s night you like.

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup
Makes: 6 servings
  • 4 T. unsalted butter
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 leeks (white and light green parts only), chopped
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 8 oz. button mushrooms, chopped
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 3 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¾ tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 cups half and half
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 T. chopped fresh chives
  1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and thyme to the pot, stir well, and cook until the mushrooms’ liquid has cooked off and they are tender and brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.
  3. Sprinkle in the flour, stir until it’s totally dissolved, and cook for about a minute. Pour in the wine, stir well, and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the wine is slightly reduced.
  4. Pour in the beef stock and chicken stock, and stir in the salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend until the mushrooms are chopped but not totally pureed.
  6. Add the half and half and cook (without boiling) just until heated through. Add the parsley and chives, and serve hot.

Adapted from Ina Garten.

New York Sour

new york sour

new york sour

We had such a terrific time visiting Pittsburgh this past weekend.  Gorgeous fall leaves were out in full force, both the hockey and football games we saw were down-to-the-wire wins, and we got to catch up with so many friends and family members.  It was wonderful.

One of the many highlights of the trip was seeing Ina Garten with my mom and sister and getting to hear her share details of the fascinating culinary adventure she’s living.

She’s just as gracious and elegant in person as she seems on television.  In fact, we saw her on the street a short while before the show was scheduled to begin, and she didn’t even miss a beat, kindly greeting all the fans who were so surprised and happy to run into her.

new york sour wine pour

The evening we saw her was cold and rainy, and my sister fixed this cocktail for me when we got back to her house after the show.  Just when you think a whiskey sour can’t get any better, someone thinks to pour some red wine on top.  Not only was it a visually stunning cocktail, it was absolutely delicious and the perfect nightcap for a dreary autumn night.  Thanks for the hospitality, Betsy!

New York Sour
Makes: 2 cocktails
  • 3 ½ ounces (7 T.) rye whiskey
  • 1 ½ ounces (3 T.) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 ounce (2 T.) rich simple syrup (see note)
  • 1 ½ ounces (3 T.) Zinfandel
  • Ice
  1. Place 3 ice cubes (each) into 2 rocks glasses. Set aside.
  2. Fill half a large cocktail shaker with ice. Pour in the whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Pour into prepared rocks glasses.
  3. Hold a spoon upside down over one of the glasses. Gently pour ¾ ounce of the red wine onto the back of the spoon so that the wine floats on top of the drink. Repeat with second glass and remaining wine.
  4. Note: To make the rich simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar and ½ cup water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat and let cook for 2-3 minutes until the sugar is totally dissolved. Remove from heat, cool, and chill until ready to use.

Barely adapted from Molly and Brandon on FOOD52.