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Monday, November 28, 2011

Spaghetti and Meatball Soup

Here's a recipe that can be a vegetarian option even with "meatball" in the title. I often make it with a vegetarian meatball recipe introduced to me by one of my daughters-in-law. It's very easy to make a huge pot of this for keeping in the refrigerator or freezer for quick family meals during the hectic holiday season.

As seen in the photo above, the soup was made with a couple of the variations noted at the end of the recipe, turning it into a little bit more like pasta fagioli. But that, after all, is part of the charm of homemade soup--you just add a little bit of this, a little bit of that, substitute what you have in your pantry for what you don't and, voila, you have an entirely new dish. Of course there is the little problem of never being able to quite duplicate that soup from last week's leftovers that everybody in the family wants you to make again, but you just keep improvising and making new "best ever" dishes. But here, in recipe form, are the basics for a warm, inexpensive fall or winter entree.

Spaghetti and Meatball Soup
(OR Spaghetti Sauce Soup, if you skip the meatballs!)

2 large onions, chopped--1 1/2 to 2 cups
1 28 to 29 oz can or jar spaghetti sauce
1 to 2 chopped red and/or green bell peppers
1 12 to 16 oz pkg chopped spinach--don't thaw before adding
2 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes or packets
1/2 t 1 t hot pepper flakes (optional)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 to 29 oz can crushed or dicd tomatoes
2 large carrots, grated
Italian seasoning, oregano, salt and black pepper to taste
1 T sugar
1 or 2 15 to 16 oz cans garbanzo beans, including liquid
1 lb pre-cooked meatballs (frozen pre-packaged or made from your own recipe, with or without meat)

1. Saute onions and four of the garlic cloves in a little oil until the onions are soft and slightly browned.
2.  Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients except the spinach and meatballs in a large pot. Fill the spaghetti sauce, beans, and tomato cans with water to rinse out and add to the soup. You should add about 2 to 3 cans of water to attain a good "soupy" consistency.
3.  Add the sauteed onions and garlic and simmer for an hour or so. (This could be put on LOW in a large slow cooker for about 3 to 4 hours)
4.  About an hour before serving, add the remaining garlic, the spinach, and the meatballs. Taste and adjust for seasoning as needed. If the soup is too thick, you can also add some water at this time too.

The soup keeps well (is often thought even better the second day) and freezes well.

Other vegetables can be added, such as corn, grated zucchini, more beans, kale, etc.
Substitute a cup or so of butternut squash puree for the carrots--or use cubed or grated squash.
Pasta can be added to the soup as well, in one of two ways.
Dry pasta:  Add one to two cups of pasta, your choice of shapes, with the other ingredients in step 2.
Cooked pasta:  Add two to four cups cooked pasta with the spinach and meatballs in step 4.
Beans: while garbanzos are my favorite for this soup, any other dried beans may be substituted as well.)

Vegetarian Meatballs

2 c grated Longhorn, cheddar, or mozzarella cheese--or a mixture
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 c fine dry bread crumbs
3/4 c pecans, ground or finely chopped
2 pkg vegetarian broth or bouillon granules (See NOTE)
garlic to taste (may use garlic powder or minced fresh garlic)
5 to 6 eggs

1.  Saute the onions in a small amount of olive or canola oil.
2.  Combine all ingredients but the eggs in a food processor fitted with a plastic mixing blade and blend until evenly mixed.
3.  Add the eggs one at a time, until the mixture just comes together and can be formed into a ball with your fingers.
4.  Shape the mixture into balls of your preferred size--I like to use one of my round measuring tablespoons as it makes these quite even and a nice round shape. For best flavor and even cooking, I would never make these larger than a ping pong ball.
You will end up with 40 to 70 meatballs, depending on the size you make them.
5.  To freeze for later use:  put the balls on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Then repackage in a tightly sealed freezer bag and remove only as many as needed.
6.  To cook immediately:  you may saute the balls in a little oil on the stove top or use the method I prefer--place without touching on a pan and bake at 350 degrees until the outsides are golden brown and just starting to get crisp. The length of time will depend on how large you have made the balls.

NOTE:  If you use bouillon cubes instead of granules, crush these before adding to the other ingredients, to be sure they are well mixed.

The photo below gives a more close up view of one of the meatballs in today's soup.

Birthday Cake for Breakfast Too

I have it on "good medical authority" that breakfast may be the ideal time to eat birthday cake, since you have the rest of the day when your metabolism could be at its best to work off those extra calories. Since this cake also has a cup of very healthy butternut squash in it (and some bitter chocolate for more healthy rationalization), it certainly should be able to be eaten both at the birthday dinner and the following morning for breakfast.

Okay, so this is still a pretty over the top treat that is best reserved for those special once a year type occasions like birthdays. Nonetheless, this is a wonderful cake to have in your arsenal of special family favorites.

The recipes here include a longtime favorite--chocolate carrot cake--adapted for the squash I have in abundance right now and a new, and maybe this time really "never fail" fudge frosting. (To see the way my previous favorite-for-flavor fudge frosting looks, you can check out

Chocolate Butternut Squash Cake

2 c sugar
1 c butter, softened but not melted
4 eggs
1 c cooked, mashed or pureed butternut squash
1/3 c cocoa
1/2 t vanilla
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 c milk
1/2 to 1 c coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350. Oil well a Bundt or 10 inch tube pan. Sprinkle lightly with a mixture of about a teaspoon of cocoa and a teaspoon of flour and shake to evenly coat the bottom and about an inch or two up the sides of the pan. (You can use just flour for this step, but the cocoa adds a touch of flavor and eliminates the white spots on the crust that flour alone can leave.) It is important to be sure you have well-oiled and floured the pan to be sure the cake comes out with minimal problems.
2. Combine the sugar and butter. Beat together for several minutes, until the mixture is very light and fluffy. (Old-fashioned cooks would actually rub a little of the mixture between their fingers to observe whether the sugar was no longer granular to the touch.) This is a wonderful time to have a stand mixer!
3.  Add the eggs and continue beating another few minutes until the mixture is light and lemony.
4.  Pour in the squash, vanilla, and cocoa and stir until well-blended.
5.  Sift the dry ingredients together and then add alternately with the milk, stirring after each addition.
6.  Fold in nuts if used. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees fr 55 to 65 minutes until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
7.  Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then remove from pan. (I usually turn it directly on to the cake plate I will be using rather than on a cooling rack, as this is easier than trying to move the cake later.)

Variation:  Original Chocolate Carrot Cake--use 1 cup cooked and mashed or pureed carrots in place of the squash. 

Never Fail Microwave Fudge Frosting

1 c sugar
1/4 c milk
1/4 c butter
3/4 c semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 to 1 c miniature marshmallows

1.  Combine sugar, milk, and butter in a large microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for about a minute and a half. Stir and return to microwave for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until the mixture has come to a full boil. (This is why you need a big bowl--it will increase in volume more than you ever thought!)
2.  Remove from microwave and immediately stir in the chocolate chips and marshmallows. Beat well.
3.  Return the mixture to the microwave and heat for a minute or two at power level 2 or 3. Again remove the mixture and beat until the chips and marshmallows are completely melted into the mixture.
4.  Spread the frosting on the cake while still warm, as it sets rather quickly.

This recipe stays a little within the "frugal, fast, and fun" parameters of this blog by using cocoa instead of baking chocolate, and it is a fun part of our family birthday traditions. Since I also try to add "fit" to most of my recipes, I could say that the squash makes this cake "healthy," but that is probably more of a stretch than reality. And fast? Well, you could make a cake mix cake or you could cut back on the amount of time creaming the butter and sugar, but sometimes maybe it's good to slow down and go back to a kind of heritage recipe, for the experience of making a "real" cake if nothing else.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Last Minute but Still All Homemade Apple Pie

So here it is Thanksgiving morning and you really shouldn't be on the computer, but you just realized you need one more pie, with little time or counter space to make your usual masterpiece.

The following recipe goes together pretty quickly and, assuming you have some apples around this time of year, probably takes nothing you don't usually have in your cookin' kitchen. Start to finish, it should take less than half an hour to prepare and then can just go in the oven with whatever else you have baking, though there will be about 12 minutes that you'll want to pump up the heat to 400 degrees. The recipes for all parts follow a few hints.

First the crust. If you bought some refrigerated or frozen shells, they can be used; just bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees before putting in the filling. However, this recipe assumes that part of your problem is that you have to come up with a crust as well as filling.

(The crust for this pie is one I had posted here earlier, for pre-baked pie shells, at Pat in the pan crust.)

The filling is similar to "tart tartin" but it doesn't require quite so much care in cutting the apples or making sure that the filling holds together, as this will stay right in the pan, like any apple pie. And the crumbles on top are similar to an apple crisp, just a lot fewer, enough to cover the apples and keep them from getting too brown.

So here is the method to use for this "quick" version of a totally from scratch pie.

1.  Wash the apples, cut, and begin caramelizing. Preheat the oven to 400 if you don't already have it on for other things.

2.  While the apples are cooking, assemble the crust in the pan.

3.  Put the crust in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

4.  Continue to stir and caramelize the apples while mixing up the crumbles.

5.  Remove crust from oven and pour the apples into the crust--now is the time for a silicone scraper, as you need to be sure you get every bit of the caramelized juices out of the pan and into the pie! Bake as directed below.

Now, to the recipes for the three parts.

Fast, But All Homemade, Apple Pie

1 3/4 c flour
2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1/3 c vegetable oil
3 T milk

6 to 7 c cored but not peeled apples, sliced thin
1/2 to 3/4 c sugar, depending on sweetness of apple variety
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t mace (or nutmeg)

3 T butter, melted
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c flour
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t mace (or nutmeg)
1/2 c oatmeal
1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts

1.  Stir the dry ingredients together in a 9 inch pie pan.
2.  Mix the oil and milk together and pour over the dry mixture. Using a fork and then your fingers, combine the ingredients until well mixed. As you mix, begin to pat the dough into shape, pressing up the sides of the pan and then fluting the edges.
3.  Prick the shell in several places with a fork. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, just until it is beginning to look dry and set but not at all browned.  Remove from oven and fill immediately with hot apple filling. Turn oven down to 375 degrees.

Here is the unbaked pie shell and the apples that are just starting to cook:

1.  Wash, core, and slice the apples. Be sure to use plenty because they will cook down far more than you know. My mother's approach is still my favorite--slice the apples into the pie pan (or one of similar size) and then heap them as high as you can, filling it at least twice as much as you would expect to have when you are done.
2.  Put the apples in a large heavy pan. Spread the sugar over the top, then sprinkle with the cinnamon and mace. Begin heating the apples over medium high heat, stirring as they begin to caramelize.
3.  Continue cooking the apples, stirring occasionally, until they are evenly softened and well caramelized. Early on, the juices will be somewhat runny, so you should continue to cook until the mixture begins to thicken and take on a caramelized texture. This should take about as much time as required to make and pre-bake the crust and stir up the topping. You'll probably be able to peel a few potatoes or wash the green beans or something else as well--just an occasional stir should be fine.
4.  Pour the filling into the pie shell as soon as it is removed from the oven. Be sure to scrape all the juices out with the apples for maximum flavor.

Here are the apples ready to go in the shell--note how much they have cooked down. As usual, my patting of the crust has resulted in a few cracks in the partially baked crust, but this will not create any problems with the final result--don't worry if your shell does the same!

1.  Combine the butter, sugar, spices and flour and mix to an even paste. A table fork will work fine for this step.
2.  Stir in the oatmeal and the nuts and mix to an even crumble.
3.  Spread evenly over the pie (your fingers will work best for an even finish!) and return the pie to the oven.

4.  Return the pie to the oven (now at 375 degrees) for about 20 minutes, just until the filling  begins to bubble around the edges. If the crust starts to brown too much, put some strips of foil around the edge for the last ten minutes or so.

And here you have the finished product:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Golden Squash Sweet Rolls

Today's recipe is guaranteed to fill your home with the warm and wonderful smell of home-baking. It uses the fruits of the season and is a (relatively) healthy bread to serve for brunch on a chilly fall morning. 

A few notes before the recipe:

  • I almost always use water and dry milk powder in my baking, but, if the latter is not usually in your cupboards, you can just substitute milk for the water. Two reasons why I like my approach:  I can add extra milk powder for a protein and calcium boost and warming water is a lot easier than making sure the milk doesn't scorch or boil over. 
  • The ground walnuts provide added protein and some really good flavor but may not be available everywhere. (Our Fleet Farm store stocks ground walnuts, pecans, and almonds, so I have a big advantage here.)  You could grind your own but I don't know that I would try to use chopped nuts in the dough. As noted in the filling recipe, the chopped walnuts could be included there.
  • I made this both as cut cinnamon rolls and as a round coffee cake. Both were iced with plain powdered sugar icing. Unfortunately, all were eaten so quickly, I didn't get a photo of the baked results, so you will have to make do with pictures taken before these went into the oven.

Apple filled squash rolls

2 1/2 c warm water
1/2 c rolled oats
1 c nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 c canola oil
1/2 to 3/4 c sugar
2 t salt
2 eggs
1 c butternut squash puree
1 t cinnamon
1/2 c ground walnuts (optional)
1 package (2 1/2 t) instant dry yeast
4 c bread flour
2 to 3 c unbleached flour, or more as needed

1.  Combine first ten ingredients (through the ground walnuts) in a large bowl and beat thoroughly. Stir in yeast and 2 cups bread flour. Allow to sit in a warm place for 30 to 60 minutes, until the mixture has become quite bubbly and has begun to rise.

2.  Stir in remaining bread flour and beat until satiny. Gradually add unbleached flour, beating after each addition, until the mixture forms a ball that begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. When too stiff to stir, begin kneading with your hands, working in only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. At this point, you can continue kneading right in the bowl or turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead, until the dough is springy.

3.  Brush the ball of dough with a little oil and cover. Let rise an hour or so, until doubled in bulk. Punch down once or twice if desired (this is how you can adapt yeast dough to your own schedule!).

4.  When ready to bake, cut off about a third of the dough and roll into a large rectangle. Spread with a third of the filling and roll and cut as for any cinnamon rolls. Place on a well-oiled baking sheet and allow to rise until again doubled in bulk, 40 to 55 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 18 minutes, depending on the size of the rolls.

If desired, part or all of the dough can be made into coffee cake instead of rolls. Roll and fill as for the cinnamon rolls, but do not cut. Instead, place the full roll on the baking sheet, forming it into a circle and sealing the ends together. Use a sharp knife or kitchen scissors to cut slashes every two inches or so, halfway into the roll. Allow to rise as for the rolls. Baking time will be longer than for the rolls, about 20 to 25 minutes

Apple Filling

4 c diced apples, packed
1/2 c sugar
2 t cinnamon
3 T butter

Put apples, sugar, and cinnamon in microwave for 3 to 4 minutes on high. Stir once or twice if needed. Remove and stir in butter. Allow to cool before filling rolls.

If desired, 1/2 to 1 cup chopped walnuts can be added with the butter.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Brunch, Lunch, Supper--A Flexible and Fast Main Dish

Potatoes O'Brien is a dish found on many coffee shop menus, while Lyonnaise Potatoes may appear on the breakfast listings at a little more upscale hotel restaurant. Whatever the name, these usually have a similar base, sliced (occasionally diced) potatoes sauteed with some onion and, in the case of the O'Brien version, bell peppers. Most often, these will be offered as a side dish, with eggs cooked to your preference along with toast, English muffin, or bagel. Often, bacon, sausage, or ham are also loaded onto the already crowded plate. These potatoes may also be a side dish for a three (!) egg omelet loaded with all kinds of other goodies, like the afore-mentioned breakfast meats, lots of wonderfully gooey cheese, etc.


When cooked in a lot of fat, added to an already calorie and fat-heavy meal and then with the redundant carbs of one of those bread choices, this potato dish can seem anything but healthy.

However, the version I'm including today can actually be a good choice for a quick meal anytime of the day.  A few ways to move it into the category of a welcome choice:
  • Make this the only carb choice--no need for toast or other bread-y additions
  • Reduce the amount of fat used for the potatoes--not at all hard if you start with a nonstick or (best of all) well-seasoned cast iron skillet
  • Use eggs as your source of protein (Read the NOTE below the recipe to see more on this)
  • Potatoes are high on many glycemic indices, but keep the peeling on. Treat them as the carb part of the meal, not as one of your vegetable servings and you'll be okay. That's why this dish, loaded up with lots of veggies--squash or carrots and lots of onion and bell pepper--works well nutritiously
  • Add a glass of milk and some fresh fruit in season for a completely balanced meal
 The following recipe takes all of these steps into account, resulting in a warm and friendly meal that can be prepared quickly and inexpensively.

Potato Eggs O'Brien

These amounts are for one to two servings. Multiply as needed for the number of people you are feeding.

1 T canola or olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 large potato, scrubbed (but not peeled) and sliced (about 2 cups)
1/4 to 1/3 c diced bell pepper--if possible, use green and red for maximum color appeal
1 c lightly cooked butternut squash, cubed OR
1 c sliced or diced carrot (about 1 medium)
2 eggs
seasoning salt and cayenne (or black) pepper, to taste

1.  Saute onion in oil over medium to high heat for about 5 minutes, while you are preparing the other vegetables.

2.  Add the potatoes (and carrots, if using these instead of squash) and continue cooking about 5 minutes, until the potatoes are golden on the bottom. Turn and sprinkle with a small amount of seasoning salt and pepper. Cover and continue cooking about 5 more minutes. Stir and add the bell pepper and squash, cover again and continue cooking until the potatoes are just tender.

3.  Reduce the heat to medium/low and push the vegetables to the sides of the pan, opening an area in the center. Continue cooking in one of the following ways:

For eggs "sunny side up":  Break the eggs into this cleared area, sprinkle with a few drops of water, and cover the pan. Continue cooking until the eggs are set.

For eggs scrambled into the rest of the mixture:  Lightly mix the eggs with a fork and pour into the center. As they begin to set, gently stir the eggs into the vegetables, coating all lightly. Cook until all parts of the egg are set.

May serve with salsa, ketchup, and/or plain yogurt as desired.

Eggs?  For many of us who remember the decades of warnings against eating any eggs at all, the moves toward bringing these back into the acceptable nutrition category may be hard to get used to. However, there are now well-grounded studies that show eggs can be valuable--and very inexpensive--additions to a well-balanced diet. No, three fried eggs every day for breakfast will never again be seen as good, but you can easily eat eggs a few times a week without any fear of problems. (NOTE: For a few people, eggs are still a problem; if your doctor has indicated they are not for you, do heed his or her advice!)

The key is, as with all foods, keeping the preparation as healthy as possible. If you choose to accompany your eggs with high fat "breakfast" meats or you always choose cooking methods that also include cheese (omelets, frittatas, etc.), the problem will not be with the eggs!

Bottom line:  If you are one of those people who find an egg with a side  "home fries" or "hash browns" one of life's guilty pleasures, enjoy this version, guilt-free.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Daughter's Great Tree Hugger Chili--and some thoughts on hiding vegetables

(Yes, there really is a recipe in this entry; you just have a little more prose to plow through to get there. I have been told, by a reliable source, that it is better to put the recipes up front, since those are what people are really interested in. However, I just have to have my say about the hidden vegetable thing. Besides, this chili recipe is well worth waiting for, so bear with me for a few more paragraphs.)

A few years ago, there was a little bit of a dust up over two competing cookbooks designed to "hide" vegetables in kids' meals. Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Foods by Jessica Seinfeld (Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld) hit the stores only a few months after Missy Chase Lapine had published her cookbook, The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals. There were charges of plagiarism over the similarities and also some spirited debate over whether it is ever good to try to slip disliked vegetables into foods rather than just getting kids to eat "what's good for them."

Meanwhile, I found the whole thing pretty funny, since I had long ago been influenced by Confessions of a Sneaky Organic Cook, by Jane Kinderlehrer--and my own mother. Both of these women knew how to add flavor and nutrition to foods by slipping in unexpected ingredients. For my mother, this meant putting grated carrots in her meatloaf for added juiciness and including all manner of leftover vegetables in soups and casseroles. She made carrot cakes and breads, tucked leftover beets into a delicious hash whenever there was leftover pot roast, and combined applesauce and other fruits in pies and cakes--and perhaps even things we never knew about!

Kinderlehrer added an infamous (for my kids at least) idea that I used often when my children were small: including a small amount of ground liver to ground beef for burgers and meatloaf. Because two of my children were often anemic, I had been told to serve liver more often, never something children enjoy, so this little hint was one that seemed just right. I would buy a pound of liver, grind it in the blender, and then freeze it in tablespoon size packages. I started with about a tablespoon per pound and was usually able to get up to two to three tablespoons before the family started to notice. The more I included other, strong flavored ingredients like lots of onion, bell pepper, and garlic, the less they were able to detect the liver. And I quickly learned that spaghetti sauce and chili didn't work with this trick because the liver was never really incorporated as well as with the more compact forms of burgers and loaves.

As with any good thing, I did have a tendency to overdo the liver addition, causing the entire meatloaf or hamburger to become liverloaf or liver patties, not welcome entrees! Today my kids still remind me of those least favorite meals, but they didn't realize how often they did eat--and enjoy--liver-enhanced ground meat dishes, when I learned how to moderate the amounts.

Liver aside, I did begin collecting recipes that that included vegetables and sometimes fruits in unexpected places. At first, they were mostly for breads, cakes, and other desserts. Then, following my mother's frequent addition of carrots to various main dishes, I grated these always available orange vegetables into just about anything that had a tomato sauce and then branched out to adding carrot puree to cheese-based sauces, even using them to replicate the bright orange fluorescence of the mac and cheese in the little blue boxes.

Spinach is another vegetable I learned to add into foods in unlikely places. First my meatloaf, sometimes almost more vegetable than meat, and then lasagna, chili, and spaghetti sauce. Frozen chopped spinach mixed into these tomato-sauce based foods is barely distinguishable, yet its addition gives depth of flavor without itself standing out separately.

However, it was not until my daughter introduced me to her incredible killer vegetarian chili that I really learned about tucking lots of vegetables into all manner of foods. Her chili doesn't try to hide anything, but it still has unexpected ingredients that, like the spinach I had been adding to other things, don't step up and say, hi, did you know you just had zucchini in your chili, yet the added flavor makes her recipe a really good one.

In addition to zucchini and any other squash, she incorporates barley. This is another good food to include if you are trying to move to more vegetarian meals. It provides a texture in chili, spaghetti and other sauces very similar to ground beef--a good "starter" for those trying to move toward more vegetarian options...and, it's an excellent choice for the coming cold weather months, when nothing is so warming as a steaming bowl of chili or soup.

If you are looking for a vegetarian dish that will satisfy even the most carnivorous eaters, you can't do better than Darcie's own chili.

Darcie's Tree Hugger Chili

2 1/2 c dry kidney and/or black beans, soaked (see NOTE)
1 very large onion, chopped
2 to 3 stalks celery, diced
6 to 8 large cloves garlic, minced (don't be afraid to use too much!)
1 to 2 medium bell peppers, chopped
1 c pearl barley
2 t chili powder, or to taste
black and cayenne pepper to taste
2 to 3 t cumin
1 small can tomato paste
46 oz can tomato juice
2 T olive oil
1 medium carrot, diced
1 to 3 zucchini OR any butternut or other winter squash, cubed
2 t basil
1 1/2 t garlic salt
1 t Italian seasoning
1 14 1/2 to 15 oz can stewed tomatoes
1 T sugar or molasses (opt)

1. Soak beans for at least 4 hours before cooking, or overnight. Prepare all other ingredients while the beans are cooking.
2. Place the soaked beans in a large kettle, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Partially cover, turn heat down to a simmer, and cook until tender (about 1 1/4 hours, slightly longer for black beans). Watch the water level during cooking, adding more if necessary. Drain off any excess water when the beans are done.
3. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add onion, half the garlic, carrot, celery, and seasonings. Saute over medium heat about 5 minutes, add bell pepper and zucchini, and saute until all of the vegetables are tender.
4. Stir in half the tomato juice. Simmer, uncovered, gradually adding rest of tomato juice, tomato paste, and barley. Keep cooking slowly until of desired thickness. Taste to see if more seasonings are needed.
5. Add beans, canned tomatoes, and more chili powder and cayenne pepper if necessary. Continue simmering over lowest possible heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes or longer. After about 15 minutes, add remaining garlic. Barley will continue to swell even after cooking.

Serve topped with cheese and with toasted flour tortilla strips on the side. This becomes more and more tasty the longer it sits. It reheats very well in the microwave, but tends to separate if frozen.

Canned beans may be used, drained of their juices. You would probably want three to four 15 1/2 ounce cans and can mix black and kidney beans if desired.

Also--if you are using butternut squash instead of zucchini, you may use precooked puree, adding this with the tomato juice in step 4, rather than in step 3 with the other vegetables.

And, in case you wondered, with cheese and cilantro on top, it looks like this:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

After years of loving Indian food but being afraid to try making it myself, I have become a little more adventurous with curry, garam masala and all the rest, and this soup has made me glad that I have branched out, especially because it's such an easy recipe.

There are only two "hard' steps--cutting the squash can sometimes be a challenge but, as I mentioned in an earlier post, putting a squash in the microwave for 3 minutes or so makes cutting it much, much easier.

The other step that is difficult for me at times is the patience I need to practice while letting the onions caramelize. After you have heated the oil and added the onions, you really do need to turn the heat to medium at most and then allow the onions to slowly, slowly cook to a sweet, dark golden mass. Since these could also be cooked ahead if needed, you might want to saute them while you are washing dishes or preparing other foods, since you just have to give them a stir now and then while you wait.

As made today, this soup is meatless but not vegetarian. I had some wonderful broth that needed to be used, so that became the base for the dish I served my guests today. However, if you want to go the whole vegan route, just use vegetable broth instead of the chicken broth in the ingredients list below.

And by all means, make this ahead and reheat--it really does get better the second time around.

Curried Squash Soup

5 c roasted butternut squash (about a 2 to 3 pound squash)
2 to 3 c chopped onion--err on the side of more, not less!
3 T canola or olive oil (OR, for a non-vegetarian version, use the chicken fat from the chicken broth)
1 to 2 t finely chopped or grated fresh ginger
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 to 1 1/2 T curry powder
1 quart chicken broth
1 to 2 t salt, to taste--this will vary depending on the saltiness of the broth you are using
1/2 to 1 t cayenne, according to your taste
1 c unsweetened applesauce
1 to 2 t sugar, to taste

1. Cut the squash in half and place on a baking sheet. Cover lightly with aluminum foil and roast at 350 to 375 for an hour or so, until the flesh is very soft throughout. Allow to cool and then scoop the pulp from the peeling. This step can be done well in advance of making the soup--or you can even use frozen squash puree, thawed slightly.

2. Saute the onion slowly in the oil until it is deep golden brown and almost caramelized. (Cover the pan for most of the time that the onions are cooking, stirring occasionally to be sure they don't stick on and that they are cooking evenly.) Stir in the ginger, garlic, and curry powder and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so.

3. Add the applesauce, sugar, and broth to the sauteed onions and stir well. Simmer for a few minutes before removing the mixture from the burner so that it cools slightly.

4. In batches, combine the squash and the broth and onion mixture in a food processor and blend until very smooth. Return all of the pureed mixture to the soup pot. Add the salt and cayenne and adjust other seasonings as needed. If desired, water can be added for a thinner consistency.

5. Continue simmering the soup for a half hour or more (a slow cooker on LOW is a good thing for this) before serving, OR refrigerate and then heat slowly the next day.

If desired, sprinkle with chopped cilantro before serving.

Additional Notes:

Don't have a processor or blender?

You can still have a very smooth soup, by making sure that the onions are chopped quite fine and then mashing the onions and squash until smooth, using a potato masher. For this version, you probably would be better off using ground ginger and garlic powder instead of fresh ginger and garlic, for maximum smoothness.

Don't have applesauce handy?

Substitute a finely chopped apple or two for the applesauce and saute with the onions. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Quick--and Healthy--Salad for Fall and Winter

As the last of the local tomatoes have been killed off by frost, and even the lettuce is getting a little more pricey and a little less local, it is time to switch to salads based on entirely different ingredients. Classic Waldorf Salad is something that we can fall back on now that there are abundant apples and celery in the stores, but this is one of those "salads" that can too often be taken over by high fat, high sugar, ingredients. This version is nonfat and minimizes the added sugars. With all the ingredients in the refrigerator, you should be able to assemble enough for a family of four or more in just minutes.

Light Waldorf Salad

1 1/2 c coarsely chopped apples--core but do not peel
1 to 1 1/2 c sliced or diced celery
1/2 c broken walnut pieces
6 to 8 oz vanilla yogurt
1 T lemon juice (may use bottled, reconstituted, such as ReaLemon)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
optional additions:
black or red grapes, sliced
raisins or dried currants
sunflower seeds

1. Prepare the celery, walnuts, and any of the optional ingredients and place in a large serving bowl.
2. Cut the apples and sprinkle with the lemon juice. Toss lightly to coat all surfaces.
3. Add the apples to the other prepared ingredients. Stir in yogurt, a little at a time, until the desired creaminess is reached.
4. Season generously with the salt and pepper. The pepper will bring out the flavors, so don't omit because you don't associate fruit with this interesting spice!

A note on the apples: Although any variety may be used, this is best with the crisp, slightly tart, varieties so often available in the fall. I have used, at various times, Haralson, Regent, Prairie Spy, Sweet 16, and Honey Gold (a precursor of the well-loved Honey Crisp). Mixing red, green, and yellow apples can make this an especially attractive salad as well. While some varieties will discolor more quickly than others, cutting the apples after all the rest of the salad is prepared will minimize browning. Tossing them with the lemon juice also helps them keep their color, as does adding the yogurt as soon as possible after cutting.

The portion shown in the photo above was refrigerated overnight, illustrating how well the color stays once the apples are mixed with the dressing. (Apples for this version were a mix of Haralson and Prairie Spy.)

Variation: For a slightly less sweet salad, use plain yogurt and only a teaspoon or so of sugar, tasting for your preferred level of sweetness.


A Variation my daughter helped develop many years ago:

Pink Lady Salad

Use either strawberry or raspberry yogurt for the dressing; omit salt and pepper (and maybe reduce the celery by half) and you'll have a kid-friendly dish for even the most salad-a-phobic child.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vegan Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing

I was looking for a dessert for some vegan friends when, once again, I had bananas on the counter. A little experimenting with a few of the offerings on the internet led to these quick and tasty cupcakes that even non-vegans will enjoy. Good for those who have problems with lactose or eggs too, but not for anyone with a peanut allergy and not gluten-free either...but then, we can't take everything away in one recipe, can we?

Vegan Banana Cupcakes

1 1/2 c mashed banana (about 3 to 4, depending on size)
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1/4 c oil
2/3 c sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t mace (OR nutmeg)
2 c flour
1 1/2 t baking soda

1. Combine all the ingredients except the flour and baking soda in a large bowl and beat until well blended and smooth.
2. Sift or wisk together the flour and baking soda and add gradually to the beaten mixture. Stir only enough to blend thoroughly.
3. Spoon the batter into twelve paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool before frosting.

Vegan Peanut Butter Frosting

2 T peanut butter
approximately 2 to 2 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 to 2 T almond milk

1. Beat the peanut butter and about a cup of powdered sugar together.
2. Add a little of the almond milk and then gradually stir in the rest of the powdered sugar.
3. Add just enough of the almond milk, a very small amount at a time, to reach the desired thickness. Swirl on to each cupcake.

Variation: Apple or orange juice could be substituted for the almond milk for a light fruity flavor.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Apple Chocolate No Bake Cookies

(June 2012 note: Not sure what is going on with Blogger, but it seems like any kind of editing, including adding tags, is moving my posts to totally different dates. So, just in case you wonder, this one was originally posted last October. Still, this is a great recipe to keep in mind for summer, when you don't want to turn on the oven. Just don't try for the jack-o-lantern faces now!)

A favorite cookie/candy that is easy for kids to make is the classic chocolate oatmeal concoction often referred to as "No-Bakes." Though not making this sweet "healthy," the addition of apple gives added flavor and allows for a small reduction in added sugar.

Apple Chocolate No Bakes

1 c finely chopped apple, unpeeled
1/2 c plus 1 to 2 T sugar
3 to 4 T butter
3 T cocoa
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 c quick (NOT instant) oatmeal

1. Spread the apples in a non-stick or cast iron pan. Sprinkle sugar over the top and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft and well caramelized.
2. Add the butter and cocoa and continue cooking another 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Stir in vanilla and then the oatmeal. Pat into a buttered 8 inch square pan or into 8 buttered muffin cups.

Variation: Substitute peanut butter for half to all of the butter.

To prepare the jack-o-lanterns in the picture, press chocolate chips, cashews, and candy corn into the individual no-bakes while still hot so they will melt into the surface. I am still pondering ways to turn these into some kind of turkey for Thanksgiving. Any ideas??

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies--A "Best Recipe"

One of the privileges of my life is being able to participate in a shared meal and Bible study with many of the students, residents and other staff at Mayo clinic each week. The meal is provided by a rotating group of volunteers, and one of the most popular desserts over the years has been this pumpkin chocolate chip cookie. When the familiar stack of cookie tins appears on the table, people have been known to literally jump up and down with joy.

My friend Arlene has agreed to share her very special recipe, so feel privileged to be able to try these out for yourselves. They are nicely seasonal now with lots of pumpkin in the stores, but they are welcome year round.

(The comments included are Arlene's own--follow them if you want sheer perfection in your next cookie batch.)

Arlene's Best Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

4 cups flour
2 cups oats (I use thick oats)
2 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
1 t salt
1 1/2 cups butter or margarine (I use some of each)
2 c packed brown sugar
1 c white sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1 can (15-16 oz) pumpkin
2 cups (large package) chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, oats, soda, cinnamon, salt; set aside.
2. Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating till light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; mix well.
3. Alternate additions of dry ingredients and pumpkin, mixing well after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup dough (large muffin/cookie scoop size) on lightly greased cookie sheet; flatten slightly. (Don't use airbake pans)
5. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until firm and lightly brown; let cool for just a minute before removing to rack.

These freeze well. (My note--IF they last that long!)