Category Archives: Meat

Beef Barley Mushroom Soup

Beef Barley Mushroom Soup

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m sending a big, fat virtual hug to you all today.

Are you doing anything fun with your friends or sweetheart? Robert and I are planning a low-key night at home. I’m making this Greek Chicken and Potatoes {an absolute favorite} for dinner. Then we’ll catch up on DVR–maybe some Olympics, Bachelor, or House of Cards {!!!} A perfectly relaxing evening if you ask me. Robert’s working craaaaazy hours for months so any amount of time we get to spend together is special whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not.

I was perfectly happy to stay in this year, but I was thinking back to this time just a few years ago. We’d only been dating for two months when Valentine’s rolled around. He sent me the most beautiful pink roses, which were completely unexpected, and took me on a date to a fabulous Chicago restaurant called Perennial Virant. I was smitten. Although I’m not one to typically give into the V-Day hype {see: sweatpants and DVR} I had never felt more special in my life.

It’s probably a little late to suggest something you can make for Valentine’s Day if you’re cooking tonight, but I hope you keep this soup in mind for some time soon.

I’ve tried to make the perfect beef barley soup for years and I have finally done it. Truly, this is the last beef barley recipe I ever need. Jackpot! It’s rich, a perfect balance of chunky and brothy, and I even snuck some spinach in there, too. I ate this throughout the week and was totally bummed when it was all gone. Time to make another pot!

Beef Barley Mushroom Soup

Beef Barley Mushroom Soup


  • Olive oil
  • 1 lb beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 3 handfuls baby spinach
  • Parsley for garnish


Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add beef stew meat, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until cooked through. Remove meat to a bowl and set aside.

To the pot, add onion and leek. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery, saute about 5 to 8 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic cloves, and dried thyme. Cook 5 minutes more. Add beef broth, water, barley and meat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until barley is cooked and softened, about 25 minutes. Add spinach, cook until wilted. Serve soup with chopped fresh parsley for garnish.

Honey Mustard Pork Tenderloin

Honey Mustard Pork Tenderloin2I’m convinced there’s a little old lady living inside of me. I love Sunday night dinner. It’s my favorite meal of the week. The recipes I make for Sunday night dinner aren’t always time consuming or complicated {this one sure isn’t}. But what I love about cooking on Sundays is there’s no time pressure like a growling belly after a long workday. I cook at my own pace and take my time tasting and experimenting so the process is just as satisfying as the end result. I also enjoy indulging my old lady side on Sundays by eating dinner around 5pm or 6pm so I can have plenty of time to get full and digest. Just hand me my walker now!

I’m so thrilled with how this recipe came out. I tend to keep things super simple when I roast pork tenderloin–usually just some olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper–but the marinade I made here gives the meat a hefty punch of flavor. This is definitely my new go-to. Plus, all of the ingredients are pantry and refrigerator staples. Just mix them together and pour into a plastic baggie with your tenderloin so it can bathe for a few hours. Brown the meat on the stove and then stick it in the oven to finish cooking.

Whether you save this for a leisurely Sunday night dinner or marinate the meat in the morning and cook it up after a long day at work I promise you’ll be equally satisfied the moment you dig in.

Honey Mustard Pork Tenderloin

Honey Mustard Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4-6


  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp red chili pepper flakes
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 (1 lb) pork tenderloins


In a bowl, add the apple cider vinegar through black pepper and whisk to combine. Pour marinade into a large zip-top bag. Add the pork tenderloins. Use your hands on the outside of the bag to make sure the meat is covered in the marinade. Refrigerate for 1 to 12 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a grill pan (spray with non-stick spray) or cast-iron pan (heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil) over medium high heat. Brown the pork tenderloins, about 2 minutes on all four sides for a total of about 8 minutes. Transfer pork tenderloins to roasting pan or foil-lined baking sheet and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 145 degrees, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Source: Slightly Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod 

Slow Cooker Beef Chili

Slow Cooker Beef Chili ABalancedLifeCooks.comWell, here we are. The Monday after Thanksgiving. Cyber Monday for those who plan on doing a little holiday shopping. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Our long weekend was everything I hoped for and more: Lots of cooking, eating, and relaxing. Our Thanksgiving for three was a total success, 12 pound bird and all. I loved cooking the whole meal and now I’m ready to host Thanksgiving for 20. Who’s coming next year?

So let’s talk chili. If you’ve had your fill of turkey for a while (I know we have) this chili offers the ideal diversion and then some. I don’t know what’s taken me so long to make beef chili in the slow cooker, but it won’t be long before I make this exact recipe again.

Even Robert, who’s the most chili obsessed person I know (one time at a diner he ordered a chili cheeseburger and a bowl of chili IN THE SUMMER) declared it top 5 meals of all time. High praise indeed. The secret ingredient, cloves, comes courtesy of the chili his mom makes, which I finally got to taste last time we were in Kansas. Just trust me on this. A mere 1/4 tsp of ground cloves makes all of the flavors pop and provides a special type of heat. Not a spicy heat, but a warming heat. I’m so thrilled to finally have a go-to beef chili recipe and I hope you love it as much as we do.


Slow Cooker Beef Chili

Serves 6-8


  • Olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef (I used 85%)
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 (16 oz) can red kidney beans, undrained
  • 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • Salt and pepper, if needed
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels


In a skillet, heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until it begins to soften, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add ground beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beef starts to brown. Add chili powder, cumin, and cloves. Mix until everything is coated.

To the slow cooker add browned beef mixture, kidney beans, and tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Add frozen corn and cook on low for 5-10 minutes until thawed and heated through.


Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin ABalancedLifeCooks.comAs you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m a complete and total homebody. Always have been always will be. So even after spending an entire workweek at home there’s nothing I love more than spending an entire weekend at home, too.

This past Sunday, which I spent mostly in our kitchen, was pretty close to my ideal day at home. I woke up early (thanks DST!) and got started on our meal plan for the week (thanks to my Pinterest boards). I put together a grocery list (I’m loving the GroceryiQ App — thanks for the recommendation Facebook friends) and headed off to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Once home, I got to work unpacking and prepping. I whipped up some two-ingredient applesauce–just apples and cinnamon. I made a pumpkin chocolate chip bread; it was good, but still needs some work.

And for dinner there was this mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin. If stuffing any kind of meat sounds as intimidating to you as it did to me, this is the perfect launching pad. The ingredients are straightforward–pork tenderloin, mushrooms, chopped parsley, and breadcrumbs. It comes together really easily and the result is restaurant-quality. I served it alongside this mashed butternut squash that contains sautéed onions, apples, and a blast of spices as well as a simple salad with baby greens and roasted beet. For me, the entire day was bliss, right down to the very last bite.

Mushroom stuffed pork tenderloin.

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4


  • Olive oil
  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped plus extra for garnish
  • 2 pork tenderloins (about .75 lb – 1 lb each, trimmed of fat)


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp. Add the mushrooms to the pan, season with salt and pepper. Cook until mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and stir in breadcrumbs and parsley. Set aside.

Slice each tenderloin almost in half lengthwise and open like a book. Cover the pork in plastic wrap and using a meat mallet or heavy pan, pound until it’s about 1/2 inch thick. Remove plastic wrap. Divide the mushroom mixture evenly between the tenderloins and spread through the middle. Fold one half of the tenderloin over to meet the other. (Alternatively, you can roll up each tenderloin and secure with kitchen twine or toothpicks, but it worked for me just to fold it without rolling.) Rub the pork all over with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Heat an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork tenderloins and brown on one side, about 5 minutes, then flip and brown on the other side, about 5 minutes more. Place the pan in the oven and cook about 15-20 minutes until pork is cooked through. Garnish with chopped parsley. Let pork rest for a few minutes before slicing.

Slightly adapted from Elly Says Opa, adapted from Food Network 

Lean Bison Vegetable Soup

Lean bison vegetable soup. ABalancedLIfeCooks.comOne of my absolute favorite things is when readers make a recipe from my blog. It still boggles my mind that that’s even possible. I have no idea how often it happens, but my heart does flips when I receive a text or email from a friend or relative saying they made one of these dishes. I love my little corner of the Interwebs here so much. It’s my deepest hope that maybe, just maybe, if you cook one of these recipes it will make your day a little brighter/tastier/easier/happier.

The reason I mention cooking recipes from this site is because I do it all the time! I recently updated one of my all-time favorite meals, vegetable beef soup with this winner right here. It still checks all of my meat and veggies soup must-haves (chunks of meat, frozen veggies, silky potato and tomatoey red wine broth), but I streamlined the instructions and lightened it up by using bison instead of beef. Oh my is it good. Bonus: it’s completely weeknight doable.

If you ever happen to make something from here (even if we’ve never met!) and then happen to share it online I would be so touched if you tagged it with the hashtag #abalancedlifecooks. I always do!

Lean bison vegetable soup.

Lean Bison Vegetable Soup

Serves 6-8


  • Olive oil
  • 1.5 pound bison stew meat, trimmed of any fat
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 32 oz container low-sodium beef broth
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 16 oz package frozen mixed vegetables (such as carrots, peas, corn, and green beans)
  • 3 Yukon gold potatoes, keep skin on & slice into bite-sized chunks
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • Salt & pepper


Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add bison in batches (be sure not to crowd) and brown on each side. Once browned, transfer to a plate and add another batch to the pot. (It took me 3 batches to brown all of the meat). Set plate aside.

To the pot, add onion and celery and sautee until onion becomes translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, frozen vegetables, potatoes, and wine to the pot. Return meat to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Steak & Asparagus Spring Salad

Steak & Asparagus Spring Salad via ABalancedLifeCooks.comHere’s how I know spring has finally arrived here in Chicago: On one of the first non-30 degree days I stepped outside, pointed my face toward the sun, and basked in its warmth. It has been a long, cold, grey winter and I’m so ready to finally emerge from hibernation.

Sometimes I like to coax the next season with the food I make. I love roasted veggies as much as the next gal, but it’s time for something a little lighter. What you see here: Raw organic arugula with yellow bell pepper, boiled and seasoned baby potatoes, steamed asparagus with shallot vinaigrette, and marinated flank steak. Can I get an OH YEAH? The perfect meal to bridge the seasons: light and fresh flavors with a few hearty slices of steak.

The great thing about this meal is you can serve it so many different ways. Check out the fixins’ below:

DSCN2202You prepare each component separately, which means you can pile everything together into a salad like I did or place each item on a different part of your plate if you’re not into your food touching. Either way it’s a tasty and refreshing way to celebrate the start of spring!

Steak & Asparagus Spring Salad

Since there are several different parts to this meal I offer instructions below on how to prepare each one so you can make it all or pick a few. 

Marinated Flank Steak

To a bowl or baking dish combine: 1 pound flank steak, 2 Tbsp olive oil,  juice of 1 lime, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 chopped jalapeño (remove ribs and seeds), 1/2 cup chopped cilantro. Refrigerate for 1 or more hours.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the steak and cook 5 minutes (or more depending on desired degree of doneness) on each side. Remove steak to a plate and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Slice into thin strips.

Steamed Asparagus & Shallot Vinaigrette

Steam 1 bunch asparagus. Drain and place on a plate. In a bowl whisk together vinaigrette: 2 Tbsp champagne vinegar, 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp chopped shallot, 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Pour vinaigrette onto asparagus.

Arugula Salad

In a bowl combine: 7 oz bag organic arugula, 1 chopped bell pepper, 1 Tbsp olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste.

Baby Potatoes 

Boil 1 pound baby potatoes until fork tender. Drain. Remove to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Slow Cooker Asian Shredded Beef

I feel like I recently entered a crazy new phase in my life–and not just because I cooked a roast for the first time on Sunday (which I did. And it was awesome. I’ll tell you about it very soon.)

For many years–even while living in Park City, Burlington, and Chicago–my day-to-day life looked almost identical: some combination of working all day at my computer, walking the dogs morning, afternoon, and evening, and practicing yoga after work. Though it may seem boring to you, I thrived on this routine. But lately, in this crazy new phase in my life, it seems as if every day and every week is completely different.

Some days I jump in to sub yoga classes with only a few hours notice, which can mean sometimes I teach as many as two or three yoga classes in a row (most are in the evenings after I’ve wrapped up work.) I can even feel my work life shifting. Although I still write a lot for magazines (my first love), I have new projects for different outlets going on that are challenging me in completely new ways. And then I’ve had some crazy awesome opportunities in recent weeks. Last week, I did a little photo session at Lululemon on Michigan Ave. and then taught a free class there on Sunday morning (I mean…what?!?!) Monday afternoon I was invited to speak on a panel at Northwestern about freelancing.

I still have Yoga Sculpt Teacher Training on Sundays, which has changed things up. And there’s my love for cooking, which sometimes leads me to chop onions at 7 or 8 a.m., slow-roast fish while still in my sweaty yoga clothes, and peruse cooking magazines and websites pretty much any spare moment I find. And let’s not kid ourselves, I dream about our wedding (and life beyond that) about 85 percent of the time. Okay fine. 90 percent of the time.

How I manage to do all this (and still walk the dogs three times a day) and spend all the QT I can possibly find with my guy, I have no idea. BUT I LOVE IT. I wouldn’t trade any of it for a moment and sometimes I feel like I’m strapped into the seat of a roller coaster with my arms in the air just along for the ride. I’ve never felt this way before in my meticulously planned, routine-loving life.

Sunday night dinner for two (though we could've fed about 10 more)

What all of this has to do with Slow Cooker Asian Beef? Well, I’m not exactly sure besides the fact that it’s totally different from anything I’ve ever made before and I actually felt quite fearless going into it. And with good reason: It’s ridiculously simple. This is the closest I’ve ever come to the toss-ingredients-in-the-slow-cooker-and-leave-it-alone-for-8-hours-without-sauteeing-a-darn-thing-first approach. The only part that took any work–and by work I mean patience — was reducing the sauce. I was determined to reduce it as much as I could to really amp up the flavors. It took about 25-30 minutes, but was worth every painstaking moment of wondering if it had reduced at all (kind of like watching water boil.)

Can I just say something about beef? I’m sorry if this makes my vegetarian friends cringe. Do with this what you may, but there is something so satisfying, so primal about sinking your teeth into meat. There just is. I don’t cook or eat red meat very often, but when I do I appreciate it so much. And when it tastes this good–somewhat sweet (honey!), the tiniest bit spicy (sriracha!), totally umami (soy sauce!)–I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it.

Slow Cooker Asian Shredded Beef

Slightly adapted from Foodie with Family (awesome blog, by the way!)

Serves 6-8


1 3.25-pound boneless bottom round beef roast

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup plus 3-4 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp sriracha

6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced


Place the beef in the slow cooker. Top with garlic cloves and ginger. In a bowl, whisk together the chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup of the honey, soy sauce, and sriracha. Pour over the beef in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 7-8 hours.

When done cooking, use tongs to transfer beef to a large dish (9×13 baking dish worked for me). Pour juices from slow cooker into a small pan on the stove. Add 3-4 Tbsp of honey and stir to combine. Bring liquid to boil over high heat and continue cooking at a boil for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about half. While the sauce is boiling shred the beef using two forks.

Once the liquid reduces, pour through a mesh strainer over the beef and toss to combine. (Discard what’s left in the strainer – mostly garlic and ginger pieces.) Serve with brown rice and steamed broccoli.

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

If food was a hug, this meal, right here, would be IT. Forget chocolate. Don’t bother with cupcakes. I can think of no better way to tell someone you love them than with a plate piled high with whole wheat spaghetti and meaty tomato sauce.

Unless they’re a vegetarian. That would just be mean.

If you’re still looking for a meal to make your honey for Valentine’s Day (which just so happens to be a week from today!) I’ve got your answer right here. The fact that it makes your home smell amazing is a huge added bonus, too. And you can whip it up in less than 45 minutes when you get home from work. Oh, and it involves wine.

Of course it involves wine.

I’ve made this dish three times since I first discovered the Epicurious* recipe a few months ago. Each time it gets better and better and the last time I made it–on Super Bowl Sunday–I made a game-changing move. I nearly doubled the sauce, which not only improved the pasta to sauce to meat ratio (super important), but also extended the leftovers. In other words, it provided an additional dinner plus lunch for three days for one lucky guy.

To fancy things up for V-day, serve it with a simple arugula salad on the side and a brick of parmesan cheese that you can generously grate on top.

Happy Love Day! Consider this meal a hug from me to you : )

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce via


*If you prefer a higher meat to sauce ratio follow the Epicurious recipe. For more sauce, follow mine below!

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Serves 4-6


16 oz whole wheat spaghetti

Olive oil

1-1 1/4 pound lean ground beef

1 onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (optional – I usually leave it out if I don’t already have it in the fridge)

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (FYI – this isn’t in the Epicurious recipe and I highly recommend adding)

1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, drained, chopped into chunks

1 15 oz can tomato sauce

1/2 cup red wine (such as merlot)


Cook spaghetti according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef. Cook until brown, using a wooden spoon to break it up, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer beef to a bowl. To the skillet, add onion and garlic. Saute until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add parsley (if using), crumble basil between your hands and add to skillet, repeat with oregano, and add paprika. Continue cooking about 1 minute. Return beef to skillet. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, and wine. Turn down heat to medium or low, simmering until sauce thickens slightly, about 30-40 minutes.

To serve, place pasta on plate, top with sauce, add Parmesan as desired.


Vegetable Beef Soup

This is not the most glamorous meal I’ve ever made. But when I was looking for something that would be hearty without being too heavy for a quiet Friday night, this definitely did the trick—and then some. At first I wasn’t sure whether I was going to share this recipe…I mean, it’s vegetable beef soup. Doesn’t everyone have a recipe for that? Well, when searching for a recipe online I was surprised to find that locating one with all of the components I was looking for was no easy task. Maybe it’s because everyone assumes everyone else already knows how to make it? Um, I didn’t. My very simple criteria for a veggie beef soup included two main things:

  • Chunks of meat
  • Frozen veggies

As much as I love chopping—probably way more than is normal—I was looking for something that would minimize the amount of time between making a homemade winter meal and plopping my bum on the couch. Plus, my grandma and my mom always made their beef soups with frozen veggies so I was searching with a sense of nostalgia, too.

Finally, I ended up combining two recipes: One from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and one from a special issue (all soups!) of Better Homes and Gardens. The first included chunks of meat (yes, please!), but freshly cut veggies (normally that’d totally be my jam, but I was on the hunt for a shortcut). The latter included frozen veggies (score!), but ground meat (not this time).

Once I hit Whole Foods and got into the kitchen, what ended up happening was a beautiful thing. As homey and as basic as this recipe may seem, I channeled a little Ina Garten (who, by the way, didn’t have a vegetable beef soup recipe last I checked) and turned the volume way up by using high-quality ingredients. Here’s a peek:

  • Lean organic grass-fed meat
  • Organic frozen veggies with carrots, peas, corn, string beans, and baby lima beans
  • A healthy glug of merlot
  • Chunks of creamy Yukon gold potatoes

The result satisfied every item on my checklist and much, much more.

Vegetable Beef Soup

Grapeseed oil
1 ½ pounds lean beef stew meat (even if it’s already in chunks be sure to cut down to bite-sized pieces)
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
32 oz container low-sodium beef broth
28 oz can diced tomatoes
12 oz package frozen mixed vegetables
3 small Yukon gold potatoes, leave skin on & slice into bite-sized pieces
¼ cup red wine
salt & pepper

Heat about 1 Tbsp of oil in a large pot on medium-high heat & swirl to coat bottom. Salt and pepper meat. Add beef in batches (be sure not to crowd) turning to brown on all sides. Once browned, transfer beef from pot to a plate and add next batch (I did it in three batches). Add additional oil as necessary. Once you remove the final batch, scrape brown bits off bottom of the pot with wooden spoon and pour out with accumulated fat. Return pot to heat.

Add onion and celery. Sautee until onion softens, about 5 to 8 minutes. Return beef to pot. Add the broth, tomatoes, frozen vegetables, potatoes, and wine. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Salt & pepper to taste.

Kale, White Bean, and Sausage Soup

I can’t believe I’m about to write a post on sausage. Oh, it’s happening. And just for kicks I’m going to attempt to do it while keeping a straight face. So here it goes.

I hated sausage for the majority of my life. I think it stems from tasting it at my grandparents’ house in Maryland when I was a kid. It was the breakfast kind that came in links and was stored in the freezer. No, not that freezer—the second freezer. The one in the laundry room. Well, I thought sausage was gross (I’m guessing it was the fennel) so I stuck with bacon.

As the years went by and I became interested in health, I further avoided sausage. I learned about the sodium and nitrates that go into curing sausage, and let’s not talk about what’s in the casing. I decided I’d never touch the stuff.

But then I became interested in cooking. And food. And I noticed menu items like orecchiette with broccoli rabe, sausage, and sun-dried tomatoes. Don’t the words sound so delicious you could just eat them? Sausage wasn’t only being paired with scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes anymore.

I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to give sausage a second chance. I think it may have something to do with one of my favorite soup recipes, Italian Wedding Soup. My sister made it for the first time several years ago and I fell in love with the tiny chicken sausage meatballs. No longer did fennel turn me off—it was a deep and complex flavor with just the right amount of bite. I loved that sausage was no longer limited only to pork—this was chicken! And where was the casing? Raw, this stuff looked like ground meat with seasonings.

Last winter I made Italian Wedding Soup on my own several times and fell more in love with sausage’s bold flavors. Sometimes, I’d even order items at restaurants that contained it. But I’d never cooked anything else with sausage…until Monday. A while ago, I saw a recipe for kale and white bean soup. The moment I saw the word kale I was pretty much sold. I then saw a recipe for sausage and white bean soup. These recipes had to meet. And I was just the girl to set them up.

It was only a matter of time before kale, white bean, and sausage soup came to be. Of course, this wasn’t going to happen without interrogating the Whole Foods meat counter guy first. Yes, I’ve been known to do this weekly from time to time. I had to know what was in his sausage. (I’m still keeping a straight face here.) Is the chicken sausage white meat or dark? It’s dark. I could live with that. Is it organic? Yes. Has it been cured? No. So no nitrates? No nitrates. It’s simply ground meat with seasonings already mixed in and has never been in a casing before? Yes. No casing. I’ll take a pound, please. This soup was as good as done. I picked up some onion, carrots, celery, and two giant bunches of lacitano kale (after last week’s success I figured I’d give this variety another shot—and there wasn’t even any braising involved!)

Now I’m just going to come out and say it. This is the best soup I’ve ever made. Ever. In history. Hands down. No competition. There are a million different flavors going on here, but it’s like they were meant to be together. (Maybe I’m destined to be a food matchmaker?) The beans, kale and carrots provide a perfect backdrop for the slightly spicy sausage and sweet fire-roasted tomatoes to pop on your palate. Even the textures are ideal. I’m not going to lie: I had two heaping bowls last night and am happy to say there’s still plenty left to feed me through Thursday (at least). This is a recipe I’ll be making again and again. After all, I have a lot of sausage eating to make up for.

Kale, White Bean, and Sausage Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound spicy chicken sausage (out of the casing, if possible)
3 large carrots (or 4 smaller ones), chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 28 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
15 oz can great northern beans, drained and rinsed, pour half into a bowl and mash with the back of a fork
2 bunches lacitano kale, stems removed and cut into bite-sized pieces

In a soup pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onion and cook until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, break up the meat and cook until starting to brown. Add the carrots and celery and cook about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 20 to 30 minutes. Add the beans and kale and cover again, cooking until the kale wilts, about 5 to 7 more minutes.