A different kind of present

During the holidays, it is easy to get very caught up in buying, buying, buying and going overboard with things. Buying things for the house, buying presents, buying special food. There are people who already have quite a bit of “stuff” and do not need more. My sister fits in that category and I did not want to contribute to her simplifying process by buying her more stuff. I’ve also noticed that many times she winds up getting take-out food at the end of the day because she is tired from carting my brother in law around or doing other errands. (He doesn’t drive much anymore).

I am trying to simplify my life in many ways and wanted to incorporate that into my holidays this past season. So, I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what to do for them for the holidays. Finally, I decided to promise to bring them a dinner every month for twelve months. (A dinner that I would cook).

It has worked out very nicely. They were pleased and it works for me. I try to make something that can be frozen or refrigerated so that it can be saved for another day if they have other plans. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The first time I made spaghetti casserole. Today I made lentil soup and homemade bread. Next month I may do borek or a Turkish stew.

It is handy because I just make  more of what I am making for us. I may adjust the seasonings a little, but essentially it is the same. And pop it into a dish that will travel and we are good to go. They have been pleased and it has been fun to do this. Obviously, this will only work if the person to whom you want to gift this lives within easy driving distance.





Two Amazing Desserts

Chocolate Fondue, ala Michael Chiarello (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/chocolate-fondue-recipe.html) is such a delicious and versatile dessert. We entertain quite a bit and this dessert accomodates people on all sorts of diets and observing dietary restrictions. Eat the fruit and/or poundcake by itself. Dunk it in the chocolate fondue. Or do both. Highly recommended. If, perchance, you have some of the chocolate fondue left over at the end of the evening, fear not. That is where the Chocolate-Apricot-Coconut Balls come in.

Chocolate-Apricot-Coconut Balls

  • About 1 cup leftover chocolate fondue sauce
  • 1 T. cream
  • 1/2 cup candied orange peel (homemade is best)
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • small amount granulated sugar

Heat the sauce on very low heat or in a microwave until liquid. You may need to whisk in a T. of cream to smooth out the sauce.

In a processor,  put the orange peel, apricots, coconut, and walnuts. Process until finely chopped. You may need to add a teaspoon or so of granulated sugar to help chop up the fruit.

Stir into the chocolate fondue sauce. Use a cookie scooper to place small balls on a wax paper lined cookie tray. Cover and chill several hours until firm. Enjoy!!!

Makes about 24.

Comfort Food: Tomato Basil Soup

I came up with this a few days ago when I really, really did not feel like cooking. I wanted to eat meatless and light so we did not want to go out. Since I make sourdough bread quite a bit, we usually have a loaf on hand. Glancing over some recipes, I took ideas from several but put it together on my own. I was going to add in some cream or sour cream or evaporated milk, but I didn’t have any on hand. Since all I had was almond/coconut milk I wasn’t feeling that adventurous although it might be fine. Turns out, no extra creaminess was needed. This is really outstanding. This is really fast if you are fortunate enough to have roasted cherry tomatoes in your freezer. If not, no worries, it is still very quick.

  • 1 pint pkg of frozen cherry tomatoes, roasted in olive oil (alternatives listed below*)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped or 1 T. italian spice
  • 1/2 tsp powdered garlic or 1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 healthy tablespoon of chicken broth concentrate
  • 1 carton of strained tomatoes (I think they are about 14 ounces)
  • small amount of oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/3 cup orzo pasta

* You can make your own pint pkg of frozen roasted tomatoes by roasting about TWO pints of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, on a cookie sheet with a rim and drizzled with olive oil…freeze in a freezer bag OR I think you could sub a can of diced tomatoes….

Heat the oil in a soup pan while you chop the onion. Toss it in, and add the fresh garlic now if you are using. Throw in the defrosted tomatoes, stir a bit. Add the water, chicken concentrate, basil or italian spice and seasonings. Let it all come to a boil. Add the orzo, let it boil a minute and then turn down the heat and cover with the lid slightly ajar, and let it simmer about 45 minutes. This is unbelievably good.

Comfort Food: Mushroom Soup

This soup is easy to put together and has a couple of twists that make it better, in my opinion. Here’s what you need:

  • 2-3 T. oil or butter or a mix
  • 8-10 ounces button mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 potato, peeled (or not) and chopped
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 6 cups water
  • one healthy spoonful of chicken broth concentrate
  • 1/3 cup barley
  • 2 heaping T. flour plus small amt of water OR 2 T. blending flour
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a souppot. I used only oil. Toss in the chopped onion and let it brown slightly and wilt. Add in the mushrooms and potato. Add in the garlic. If you are using blending flour, add it now. If not, wait a bit. Pour in the water, stir in the concentrate and let come to a boil. Add in the barley. Let simmer for 40 minutes until the vegetables and barley are done. Add the can of evaporated milk. Stir well. Add the turmeric and pepper and check for salt. Some chicken broth concentrates are salty so be sure to taste before adding more. If you did not use blending flour, mix the flour with a little water to make a thin paste. Then stir into the soup and watch and stir while it thickens slightly. Add more water if needed and check seasoning. Serve!

This is really good and is creamy but you have not used cream. Turmeric is reputed to be a very healthy spice. It goes well with this combination. The barley and potato add depth.



Saving Time: Use Dried Beans

People who know me well know that I am frugal. That comes from a long history of trying to use what I have and make the best use of my available resources. I really like dried beans because they don’t take up refrigerator space, they cook up so nicely, and they do not come in cans that then take up recycling space and energy, and they are much less expensive than canned beans. Many people make the argument that using dried beans takes too much time, but I do not think that is accurate. All one has to do is soak the dried beans the night before they will be cooked. In the morning they can go into a slow cooker if no one will be home or they can go into a pan and simmer for a couple of hours. It is good to add some seasoning and salt at the end of the cooking period. But hands-on time is minimal. I am positive this saves time in the long run. It takes time and energy to go to the store, buy cans of beans, drive home, rinse them off, etc. etc. etc.  Contrast buying a large bag of dried beans which will provide the equivalent of dozens of cans of beans in much less space. The quality of the cooked dried beans is usually higher and one knows what is in the cooking water.

Keeping dried beans on hand is just a smart thing to do. It is consistent with being self-sufficient in the sense that having readily prepared foods that are easily stored is a great way to be less vulnerable when storms make travel difficult. Saving money and time are smart.

People who are interested in self-sufficiency might be interested in following Rachel Falco’s blog How To Provide (www.howtoprovide.com)


A Flash in the Pan: The Best Spinach Ever

Most people cook spinach far too long and it becomes mushy.  And that’s a texture that not too many people like, unless it is soft-serve ice cream. Mushy vegetables, not so much. This is a recipe that most people have seen, but I think most people still cook it too long. I like to take one medium sized package of pre-washed spinach. In a pan with a lid, large enough to hold the entire package, heat up one tablespoon of oil. When sizzling, throw in 1-2 cloves crushed garlic and stir around for about 15 seconds. Throw in the entire bag of spinach and cover the pan with the lid. After about 2 minutes, check and if it so dry that the spinach is sticking to the pan, toss in a little bit of water, broth, or wine – at most 1/8 cup. Throw in a little soy sauce or salt, as well as a healthy pinch of crushed red pepper. Replace the lid. Turn off the heat, check and stir. Serve. This makes two generous servings that are so yummy!!!