Recipe: Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Copycat

Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Soup Copycat

Zuppa Toscana has been my favorite soup at Olive Garden since my very first visit to that restaurant when I got the soup, salad, & breadsticks lunch with a friend.  I love the creamy sausage-laden broth with chunks of potato and peppery pieces of kale.  Kale is so awesome in soups because it holds up without wilting, even the next day.  And I have to say that having kale in it just justifies the rest of the not-as-healthful ingredients in my mind.  Right?

I’ll admit this version has more bacon than Olive Gardens…I actually think I might like it even better.  I mean, what’s not to love about more bacon?!

Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Soup Copycat

Everyone in our house loved this soup except Little Diner, who took his obligatory one bite and was done with it.  Way too many dinners are like that with him these days…someday he’ll grow out of it, right?  Right now he turns up his nose at almost anything with lots of ingredients together….casseroles, soups, many pasta sauces, etc…..pretty much everything.  Oh, and onions, potatoes, corn, peppers, eggs, and on and on…are all on his “do not like” list right now.  My two older kids will eat almost everything now.  Anyway, Little Diner’s ratings are being intentionally left out for most foods for now.  For the rest of us, we loved it and think you will, too!

Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Copycat
 
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Serves: 6-8 Servings
Ingredients
  • 4 slices bacon, diced, a little reserved for garnish
  • 1 pound spicy Italian sausage
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 russet potatoes, diced
  • 3 cups kale, chopped into large bite-size pieces (it will shrink when it cooks)
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Cook bacon over medium heat in a large skillet until crispy. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
  2. Brown sausage in the remaining bacon fat until lightly browned. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, reserving drippings.
  3. Transfer 1 tablespoon of reserved sausage drippings to a large stockpot or Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, cooking until onion is translucent. Stir in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in sausage and kale and continue to stir until kale wilts a bit, about one minute.
  5. Add heavy cream and stir until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  6. Serve garnished with bacon.

Average Fork Rating: 3.9
Mr. Diner:
3.5
Mrs. Diner:
4.5
Amazing Diner:
3.5
Sweet Diner:
4

Recipe: Green Chile Pork Stew

Green Chile Pork Stew

After one bite from a restaurant’s Green Chile Stew, I couldn’t stop thinking about making my own at home.  Green Chile Stew is a New Mexico favorite filled with Hatch chiles and pork, and is a perfect comfort food for a cold winter night.

Green Chile Stew

After scouring recipes, I settled on one that sounded similar and made tweaks to make it just the way I wanted.  The result was amazingly flavorful with tender pork, rich and comforting flavor, and even met the approval of my born-and-raised-in-New-Mexico husband.  In fact, I think this will make it into regular rotation…it is so good!

Green Chile Stew

This stew is versatile and can be served on its own with a side of tortillas for dipping or can be used as a rich and hearty smother over a burrito.  It can also be adjusted to what you have available in your area.  If you’re lucky enough to have fresh Hatch chiles, use them, but if not, don’t let it keep you from trying this wonderful stew out on the next chilly day.  It is divine!

Green Chile Pork Stew
 
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Serves: 4 Servings
Ingredients
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound boneless pork, cut into 1" cubes
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup roasted, peeled, & chopped Hatch chiles (about 2)*
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped**
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ cup beef broth
Instructions
  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a 3-quart Dutch oven with cover. Add half the pork and cook until lightly browned. Add remaining pork, onion, and garlic and stir together.
  2. Quickly stir in flour and heat for 1-2 minutes, continuing to stir. Add tomatoes, green chiles, jalapeno, salt, pepper, and sugar. Stir together.
  3. Stir in broth. Lower heat. Cover and simmer for 1 to 1½ hours until pork is tender.
  4. Serve with warm flour tortillas.
Notes
*If you don't have fresh Hatch chiles available, use one of the following substitutes: one Anaheim & one Poblano OR 7 ounces of canned Hatch or other green chiles.

**Omit the seeds for a mild spiciness or leave some or all seeds in for a medium level spiciness.

Average Fork Rating: 4
Mr. Diner:
4
Mrs. Diner:
4
Amazing Diner:
4
Sweet Diner:
4

13 Amazing Peanut Butter Recipes

13 Amazing Peanut Butter Recipes

I remember my Dad sharing spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar with us as kids.  I love peanut butter and still have a craving for it straight from the jar on occasion (or paired with a chocolate bar when I’m being particularly indulgent).  It is a such a versatile ingredient…I love it in both sweet and savory recipes and love that it is packed with protein!

My daughter is currently obsessed with peanut butter, and not just the food…she loves finding ways to use “peanut butter” in a sentence, whether it makes sense or not and has even created a funky move she calls “peanut butter.”  Kids are so awesome and fun!

If you love it a much as I do, you’ve got to check out these 13 amazing peanut butter recipes below…and don’t forget to pin your favorites!  Have an ultimate peanut butter recipe you think should be included?  Share it in the comments!

Chewy Peanut Butter Squares

Chewy Peanut Butter Squares


Chocolate Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing

Chocolate-Banana-Cupcakes-with-Peanut-Butter-Icing

Peanut Butter Cookie S’mores

peanut-butter-cookie-smores.jpg

No Bake Snicker Bar Pie

Snicker Bar Pie 1

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pancakes

PBCC-pancakes-text-600x400

How to Make Your Own Peanut Butter

Homemade-Peanut-Butter

Gluten-Free White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies with Candied Pecans

peanut-butter-candied-pecan-cookies

Banana Fluffernutter Pie

Banana-Fluffernutter-Pie

Thai Peanut Chicken with Noodles

Thai Peanut Chicken with Noodles

Chunky Peanut Butter Stuffed Brownies

Chunky-Peanut-Butter-Stuffed-Brownies-Recipe-13a-wm

Weight Watchers Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

Peanut-Butter-Banana-Muffin

Peanut Butter Cup Cookie Dough Dip

Peanut-Butter-Cup-Cookie-Dough-Dip-title

Peanut Butter Popcorn Munch

Peanut Butter Popcorn Munch

Recipe: Christmas Wreath Thumbprint Cookies

Christmas Wreath Thumprint Cookies

Happy Holidays!  I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with fabulous food, family, and friends yesterday.  Are you getting any good deals today on Black Friday?  We don’t brave the morning crowds, but do try to get some good deals from home (thank you, Internet!) and frequently venture out in the afternoon.

Now it’s time to really get in gear for Christmas!  Cookies are a big thing around Christmas.  We frequently get lots of nice plates of cookies from neighbors with a variety of types of cookies.  Our neighborhood gift is usually of the savory variety, but we always find time to make cookies to enjoy, too.  I also hear of groups getting together for cookie swaps, where each person brings a lot of one cookie and then everyone swaps types of cookies so they have a bigger variety while only having to bake one type.  Ever participated in a cookie swap?

Today’s post is part of a blogger Christmas Cookie Party!  So fun!  There are a bunch of bloggers posting great cookie recipes today, so when you are done pinning or printing ours, make sure you visit some of the other fabulous cookie recipes at the bottom of this page!

Christmas Wreath Thumbprint Cookies

I’m sure you’ve heard of thumbprint cookies before.  This recipe is one from my grandmother’s recipe collection.  She called it “Christmas Wreaths,” but for clarification, I’m calling it Christmas Wreath Thumbprint Cookies.  These are delightful little cookies that are not overly sweet, but get the majority of their flavor from the toppings and preserves you choose to add.

The cookie itself is similar to a shortbread.  I love the versatility with these cookies…and the fun in experimenting with different flavors!  I expected my favorite to be coconut with raspberry jam, but I really loved the pecans with apricot jam.  The sweet-tart flavor of the apricot combined with the nuttiness really hit a nice balance for me.  If you’re in a sweet mood, try mini chocolate chips with strawberry or raspberry…definitely on the sweeter side and so delicious!  What flavor combinations do you have in mind to try?

Christmas Wreath Thumbprint Cookies
 
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: About 30 cookies
Ingredients
  • 1 cup shortening
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups toppings of your choice (chopped nuts, chopped coconut, mini chocolate chips, etc.)
  • ¼ cup preserves of your choice (strawberry, raspberry, apricot, etc.)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease cookie sheet or line with parchment.
  2. Mix shortening, brown sugar, & egg yolks until creamy.
  3. Add flour and salt, mixing until well combined.
  4. Shape dough into 1" balls. Dip the top half of each ball into unbeaten egg whites and then into the topping of your choice.
  5. Place balls 1" apart on a cookie sheet. Make a slight indentation in each cookie.
  6. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to a cooling rack.
  7. Fill the center of each cookie with jam.
Notes
I like to make the depression in each cookie with my index finger straight up and down, but you can use the back of a small spoon or a wooden spoon handle. If needed, you may increase the depression immediately after baking. If you have an infant spoon, it is perfect for filling the cookies.

Average Fork Rating: 3.7
Mrs. Diner:
4
Amazing Diner:
4
Sweet Diner:
3

Ready for more delicious cookies to add sweetness to your holidays?  Visit all the bloggers below!

Restaurant Review: Brio Tuscan Grille

I have the best time when I go out with my kids one-on-one!  It is so fun to chat with them uninterrupted and enjoy their individual personalities.  On a girls’ night with my Sweet Diner, we went out to eat at Brio Tuscan Grille, a first visit for us.  Have you been there?  They have two locations in Utah and many throughout the United States.  We went to the Salt Lake location at City Creek.

Brio Tuscan Grille

We were grateful to be welcomed warmly by the hostess and seated quickly.  The interior was warm and classy with fresh white tablecloths and the employees all finely dressed in white shirts and slacks.  Our server was friendly and had several recommendations for us since it was our first visit.  We found him to be attentive throughout our meal, quickly refilling our drinks and checking to make sure our food met our expectations.  I loved that he treated my daughter very respectfully like a young lady.  That’s worth points in my book.

The menu is filled with a variety of Italian dishes including pastas, however the emphasis is on grilled specialties and steaks.  The kids menu is fantastic!  Two out of three of my kids gets really tired of the typical kid menu fare, so when we run into something with choices, we get excited!  In addition to grilled cheese, pepperoni pizza, and the like, they also have grilled salmon, chicken parmesan, and more.  They offer two different sizes of meals…”Bambino Bites” with smaller portions and “Meals for Kids” for larger appetites.  Sweet Diner (a salad-lover), was especially exited to see salads on the kids menu.

Brio Tuscan Grille Crab & Shrimp Fonduta

Crab & Shrimp Fonduta ($10.95)This appetizer was HEAVENLY  for a seafood-lover like me.  Served warm, it had a fontina cheese base and was loaded with whole shrimp and crab meat and topped with tomatoes and herbs.  Our only complaint?  Not enough of the thin Parmesan-herb flat bread (very thin like pita chips), but our server quickly remedied that and brought out more when we needed them.

Brio Tuscan Grille Lobster Bisque

Lobster Bisque ($5.95) – No soup on the kids menu, so Sweet Diner ordered this from the adult menu.  It was a large serving and filled with both lobster and shrimp.  I thought it was rich and delicious.  Sweet Diner liked it, but not enough to eat the whole bowlful.

Brio Tuscan Grille Insalata Bambino Kids Salad

Insalata Bambino ($1.95) – You can’t beat the value on this one…$2!  This is pretty much a junior version of their chopped salad with choice of dressing (Sweet Diner chose Ranch).  It features greens, tomatoes, olives, croutons, and fontina cheese and is delicious (much more so than this picture conveys!).  I just love a chopped salad – you get all the flavors in every bite!

Brio Tuscan Grille Shrimp Mediterranean

Shrimp Mediterranean ($15.95) – Four huge spicy grilled shrimp on a bed of broccoli, asparagus, spinach, & tomatoes atop an orzo & farro pilaf.  It is then drizzled with pesto vinaigrette and sprinkled with Feta cheese.  There are a lot of ingredients in this lighter dish and they all come beautifully presented together.  The shrimp are just slightly spicy and wonderful.  The vegetables and pilaf were a good compliment to the shrimp, but once the shrimp were gone, the rest of it lost its excitement and needed the vinaigrette to give it a boost in flavor.

The desserts looked amazing, but we didn’t get the chance to try them on this visit.  They have petite desserts starting at $2.99, as well as full-size desserts.  Love that!  Sometimes you just want a little sweet ending.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the delicious food, elegant presentation, and classy service at Brio Tuscan Grille.  The prices are higher than some Italian chains, but I also felt like Brio was a step up from something like Olive Garden.  The atmosphere was calm and fairly quiet, so it’s a good choice for a date night or business lunch.

Brio Tuscan Grille
80 Regent St
Salt Lake City, UT

Entree Price:  $$$
Average Fork Rating: 4

Mrs. Diner: 4
Sweet Diner: 4

Brio Tuscan Grille on Urbanspoon

6 Tips for Planning the Best Thanksgiving Ever

6 Tips for thanksgivingAre you in charge of Thanksgiving this year?  Whether it’s your first time hosting a Thanksgiving dinner or your 30th, it can definitely be an overwhelming responsibility.  You probably have your favorite recipes for Thanksgiving and if not, there are a lot of Thanksgiving recipes available all over the internet.  No matter what, you will want to take a look at the following tips to help make your Thanksgiving day the best one ever!

1.  Use a Thanksgiving Timeline & Task List
This is a must!  I’ve done the entire meal on my own more than once & you’ve got to be organized to get all that food to the table at the same time!  If you can, make food assignments to help lighten your load!

Thanksgiving Turkey

2.    Remember That You Can Have Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget
Thanksgiving can be an expensive meal, especially with several guests.  There are ways you can save, though.

tips-for-a-budget-friendly-thanksgiving

3.  Have Something to Help Everyone Reflect on Gratitude
We made a tree similar to this one this year.  It is a great way to focus on what is important!  Plus, it’s simple and beautiful!

thanksgiving-crafts-for-kids

4.  Let the Kids Help with the Decorating!
Kids love to have a part and share ownership in family events.  This is a simple way that they can help with the decor while also spending a little time with you leading up to the big day.  Won’t they feel proud to see their work on display?

Leaf Placemats

5.  Use Meaningful Thanksgiving Place Cards
I’m in love with these place cards that are lovely while also being functional and giving guests time and a reason to reflect.  Plus these are already done for you with an easy printable!  If your family has the tradition to go around the table and mention what you are grateful for, these will also help everyone be ready for their turn!

thankful-place-cards

6.  Have Simple, Fun Activities the Kids Can Do on Their Own Before the Meal is Served
Many kids can help in the kitchen with the prep work, but inevitably, all kids will get tired and hungry waiting for the big feast.  Give them an activity they can do mostly on their own to keep everyone happy.  This one has a bonus of being a healthy, edible snack!

Turkey-Pear-Craft

Please share your own Thanksgiving tricks & tips in the comments below.  Hope your Thanksgiving Day is one of joy, gratitude, and delicious food!

Recipe: Chewy Peanut Butter Squares

Chewy Peanut Butter Squares

Did you know November is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month?  A fun round up of peanut butter recipes is coming next week, but to hold you over until then, I thought I’d share a delicious & easy peanut butter dessert with you.

Sometimes the best recipes are simple like this one.  It’s exactly what it claims to be:  a salty-sweet peanut butter bar cookie that is soft and chewy.  It’s the chewy texture that helps this recipe rank high above a regular peanut butter cookie in my book.  Plus, what’s easier than a bar cookie….mix it up, spread it out, bake, and eat…with a glass of milk, of course!

Chewy Peanut Butter Squares
 
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: About 24 Servings
Ingredients
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup shortening
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
Instructions
  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, & salt together. Set aside.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and mix until well combined.
  3. Spread on a greased 15x10x1 pan or in both a 13x9 and 8x8 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

 

Average Fork Rating: 3.6
Mr. Diner:
3.5
Mrs. Diner:
4
Amazing Diner:
3.5
Sweet Diner:
4
Little Diner:
3

Blog Influencer of the Year – Please Vote!

 

We’ve really excited to be nominated for voiceBoks’ Blog Influencer of the Year award!  There are many other bloggers up for the award and they will be determining the top blogs by the number of votes cast.  We would love your vote!  It’s super easy and will only take a few seconds of your time.  To vote, go to Rate the Plate Utah’s voting page and click on the thumb’s up in the upper left corner.  Done!  Thanks!  Told you it was easy!  You can vote once a day through December 4.  You can help even more by spreading the word – share this post via social media, email, etc.  Thank you!!!

Hawaii Restaurant Review: Matsumoto’s Shave Ice

Matsumoto's
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is fairly iconic on the North Shore of Oahu.  It’s been around since 1951 when it opened as a little grocery store, selling bread and other staples to surrounding neighborhoods sometimes by bike and eventually by truck.  With the surfing boom of the 1960’s, shave ice sales started to soar and have continued ever since.  Today you should expect to find a line out the door, which is exactly what we found on our visit.

Matsumoto's Shave Ice

These guys have really got serving shave ice down to a science and the line moves quickly, so go ahead and get in line, browse the menu, and be ready with your order when you get up to the first counter.  Order by telling them 1) the size (small – $2.50/large – $2.75) & whether you want a bowl or a cone, 2) the extras you want (ice cream, beans, condensed milk, a plastic cone holder, etc.), & 3) your flavors (up to 3).  You’ll have to wait a few more minutes for your order, but not long.

Matsumoto's Shave Ice

Small Creamsicle, Strawberry, & Blue Raspberry Shave Ice with Ice Cream ($3.25)

Flavors:  There are a whole lot of flavors available plus some nicknamed combinations.  Their syrups are homemade and include everything from Strawberry to Li Hing Mui.  There are also cream syrups (SOOOO good) that have condensed milk mixed into them and sugar-free syrups made with Splenda.  I would definitely recommend choosing your own flavor combination (up to 3 flavors), but you can go with one of their pre-chosen flavor combinations if you like.  Just don’t choose Rainbow (Strawberry, Lemon, & Pineapple)…there are so many more exciting choices than Rainbow!  Some of our favorites:  Strawberry, Coconut Cream, Guava, & Creamsicle. 

Matsumoto's Shave Ice with Ice Cream

Small Coconut Cream, Guava, & Lilikoi Shave Ice with Ice Cream ($3.25) – See that melty ice cream?  That’s what you want!  The guava was my favorite!

Extras:  Yes, you want ice cream!  They put a vanilla scoop right in the bottom middle and it is the perfect temperature to turn all soft and melty as you eat your shave ice.  You’ll think the shave ice is good, but then you’ll hit the ice cream-shave ice melty goodness and know you’ve hit paradise!  There are other additional “toppings” like azuki beans (soft sugary red beans), mochi balls, li hung mui powder (sour), and condensed milk.  If you choose to have your shave ice in a cone, pay the extra 30 cents for the plastic holder – it will make your life less easier, less drippy, & less sticky.

We loved Matsumoto’s!  They have the art mastered; it was finely shaved, light, and soft with a melt=in-your-mouth texture.  It absorbed the syrup well without melting much.  The syrups are very good and the ice cream was the perfect temperature.  The prices are pretty good, too.  We’ve paid more for shave ice on in the mainland and it hasn’t been nearly as good.  We recommend skipping the cone and getting your shave ice in a styrofoam bowl…less mess without having to pay the 30 cents for the plastic cone holder!

Matsumoto’s Shave Ice
66-087 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, HI
(808) 637-4827

 Entree Price:  $
Average Fork Rating: 5

Mr. Diner:
5
Mrs. Diner:
5
Amazing Diner:
5
Sweet Diner:
5
Little Diner: 
5

Matsumoto Shave Ice on Urbanspoon

Recipe: My Favorite Carrot Cake

My Favorite Carrot Cake

I’ve had the pleasure of eating this carrot cake all my life. I’ve tried many other carrot cakes, but this one is by far my favorite! My mother got the recipe from her roommate in college, whose parents had a bakery. It has the perfect texture and isn’t too moist nor too dry. It doesn’t have the addition of raisins in it (which I’ve never preferred to have in my carrot cake), nor a layer of apricot preserves (which I’ve had a couple of times layered under the cream cheese frosting – not for me). You can add nuts if you like.  Somehow, carrot cake ends up being this amazing cake with a hint of cinnamon and a rich depth to it unmatched by any other spice-type cake.

The Best Carrot Cake

Of course, who could have carrot cake without amazing cream cheese frosting?  Not me – I like a generous layer, but according to Wikipedia, the United States is alone in this trend.  Europeans eat their carrot cake with icing sugar with lemon juice or Kirsch (hmmmm….doesn’t sound as good to me; what about you?).  For those of you out there who think it’s absurd to have a vegetable in a cake (I’ve got someone right in my house with the same view), give it a try!  It really doesn’t taste at all like the vegetable and ends up being a very flavorful and moist treat that you don’t feel quite so guilty about eating – hey, it’s got vegetables in it!

My Favorite Carrot Cake
 
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
Cake:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • ¾ cup oil
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
Icing:
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese (low fat is fine)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 pound powdered sugar (about 3¾ cups)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 pan..
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, oil, carrots, and cinnamon.
  4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the carrot mixture and mix until well combined.
  5. Pour into the 9x13 pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out fairly clean. Remove and set on a cooling rack until cool and ready to frost.
  6. For the icing: Cream the cream cheese and butter or margarine together until well combined and smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar and mix until incorporated and smooth. Add the vanilla and mix.

 

Average Fork Rating: 4.4
Mrs. Diner:
4.5
Amazing Diner:
4
Sweet Diner:
5
Little Diner:
4