Food is Love….. Food is Love…..

Good friends of ours lost a niece the other day….so very young, so tragic. G flew south to be with his sister, and J is here feeling sad and wishing there was something to do. We felt the same. So we invited J to come have dinner after work. She works too hard…long hours and then comes home and does sub calling for not one, but two school districts. We wanted her to have the chance to sit and eat a meal without having to fix it or clean up after it.

She came and I put out the makings of BLT sammies. Lovely bacon cooked in the oven, not in a pan. My friend Susan encouraged me to put parchment under the rack the bacon bakes on….clean up is a breeze. Lettuce was cleaned and dried, big beefy tomatoes sliced, and the bread was from the bakery at my local market, then sliced and lightly toasted. Mmmmmmm…….

To complete the comfort food fest I also made mac and cheese and a farfalle with spinach and Alfredo…..a favorite of J’s. Just to add fresh and light to the table I cut up a pineapple and several oranges for a light fruit salad. Dinner was light, fun, and relaxing for our friend. But it didn’t end there…..

Earlier in the day I prepared food for J to take home. My goal was to make sure she at least got through to the weekend without having to cook so maybe she should get some rest!!!! Here is what she took home:

….. 3 single serve containers of tortellini salad
….. 3 single serve containers of macaroni salad with lots of tomatoes and peppers
….. 3 single serve containers of Mac and cheese
….. 3 single serve containers of farfalle with spinach Alfredo
….. In addition I gave her a container of the fruit and the leftover lettuce and tomatoes so she could chop it quick for a side salad

I did tease her that she was on her own for breakfast. LOL She couldn’t stay long, and we certainly understood, but she left full and satisfied, and knowing she was loved. Mission accomplished!

A picture of their westie on my hubby’s lap was texted to G I hopes it would make him smile….

Food is love people. When times are hard and you don’t know what to do, feed the person who is hurting. It is a small effort with a reward of great warmth. And always…. Enjoy!

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That two soup day…..happy fall!

So on Sunday I soaked a pound of a 15 bean mix to get them ready to make soup. And I thawed a roast, not entirely with a plan, but thawed it nonetheless. Monday I got to work on my bean soup early, because beans need a long time to soften to the consistency my man likes. Have I mentioned that soup is Barry’s favorite go-to food? Mix that with his love affair with beans and bean soup is the height of good eats for him.

Now to it….I seasoned, braised and put my roast in a pot with a box of stock and a can of crushed tomatoes. I put that in the oven on 300 for an hour, then lowered it to 250 for another four.

So PART ONE: 15 BEAN SOUP

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To make the bean soup flavorful I did this….

While preparing the soup pot I put the beans in a pot with enough water to cover them well. These came to a boil and I set them aside to drain and cool a bit.

In my soup pot I sautéed one diced onion in some oil. I tend to use olive oil, but for this I used canola. A pinch of salt got them going. Then I added …. Wait for it ….. four teaspoons of minced garlic. and a cup of diced ham. It sounds like a lot of garlic, but trust me you won’t find the soup garlicky, just flavorful. When the onion is soft and translucent, put the beans in the pot, cover with water, and stir. Then add a 15 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, juice and all. Then a box of stock. I used veggie stock, but you could use chicken.

To season, I didn’t measure, but I added a healthy pinch of salt, several grinds of freshly ground black pepper (about six), and two bay leaves. Stir. Cover. Bring to a boil. Stir. Lower the heat to medium for an hour or so. Stir. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for hours. I mean hours. Bean soup likes attention so make it when you can be home all day and stir often.

Trust me it is delish! Oh, you can add parsley towards the end….or basil, or both.  And for goodness sake, remove the bay leaves before eating. Remember any kitchen magic should be tailored to your taste, or that of the person you are cooking for. Barry had a bowl for supper, and went quietly to the kitchen and helped himself to another bowl. It’s a keeper. It also made great planned leftovers. He ate it Tuesday again and I put the rest in the freezer today for another day.

PART TWO: BEEF VEGGIE SOUP

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Yup. I decided to make soup with the slow cooked roast. Now you might wonder why, but listen, with just us two, a lovely roast on sale makes amazing soup and a huge pot. It will be dinner for at least three nights. So here goes….

When the bean soup was well on it’s way and the smell of the roast was filling the house, I took it out and put it on my board to rest. I actually used to laugh at that. But when, against my ‘better judgement’ I tried it, I realized oh my, it keeps the juices from going everywhere and makes the meat better. Yeah.

So let your roast rest….say that three times fast! LOL

The beef soup was simpler to throw together. I started again with a diced onion, oil, and a pinch of salt. Because Barry loves pepper I added that too. When they were softened I put two boxes of stock in the pot. I seasoned with parsley, pepper and oddly enough, oregano. I have found this to be a flavor Barry likes and gives a bite he enjoys. Bring this to a boil, then lower to medium to simmer a bit.

I cut the beef into healthy bite sized chunks and added those. After a bit, I threw in a fistful of pastina. You could use any tiny pasta. Now for the last veggie….corn. Yup. Tradition used to make me put peas and carrots in, canned ones. But not anymore. I am all about fresh, and all about what tastes good to us. Corn it is! I pulled out a small bag of my fresh frozen corn and added that.

At this point I would add potatoes. But here’s the thing. This soup was made to eat later and I intended to freeze most if not all of it. So I left the potatoes out. They just don’t freeze well. They get a weird consistency after they’ve been frozen. So two helpings of potatoless soup are in the freezer. A third of it will be Thursday dinner, when I will cook it up and add potatoes. Yum.

A good day in the kitchen. Two pots of soup to welcome in the fall. Try either one. Oh and the bean soup can be thrown in a crock pot for the day! Either way you make it! ENJOY!!!

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Breaking it down ~ Mirepoix

Have you watched cooking shows and heard the chef say mirepoix {Meer-Pwa}?  This sounds fancy but it is simple and basic.

Mirepoix is the French culinary term for a base of carrots, onions, and celery used as a starter for soups and sauces. It it the flavor base for many different recipes. The usual is to use two parts onion to one part each of the carrots and celery.

If you are making a white sauce, you might substitute leeks for the carrots. If you are making brown stocks, stews, or dark sauces, you might add a bit of tomato paste.

The size of the chop or dice is up to you, depending on the recipe and your time frame. If you want or need to cook faster, the pieces should be small diced. Of course, if you like to keep the veggies with some bite, make them bigger. So, when I make chili or stew, I leave them bigger. They will cook down and become soft and tender, but still visibly there. If I am making chicken soup, they will be very small indeed.

However you cut them, they need to be sauteed gently over a relatively low heat. Butter is traditional, but I use extra virgin olive oil most often. Add salt. This brings out the juices, breaking the vegetables down and making them begin to sweat. Once this base is ready, there are endless possibilities.

So, next time you hear a chef say mirepoix, you will know to go get the veggies! And whatever you make with it… enjoy!!

the veggies

Happy Thanksgiving!

Food is love! And this is a time of year for all things food, fun, and family. My joy this year will be ‘fighting’ in the kitchen with Boyfriend and eating a fresh meal with good folks.

I am thankful for so many things. I have a man who loves me more than life itself. He and I have a history of scars and joys and I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the gold in the world. When he said Happy Anniversary early yesterday morning, he also said, “Thirty years. I won’t ask, ‘Where did it go?’, I will say, ‘Wow! What an investment!'” ❤

So as we prepare and fuss, be sure to enjoy. Remember the things you are grateful for today. Tammy promised to take lots of pictures, so I will be sharing!

Today, more than any other, enjoy!

All Things Endive

I spent considerable time on the phone with my cousin, Laurie, last night. She and I are on similar journeys toward a healthier lifestyle. Being a little further along this particular road, I was offering her some ideas for replacing the carbs (my enemy!) in her life with equally delicious and healthier options.

Sometimes in the exploration of new foods, you find something that you become almost obsessed with and one of those discoveries for me is endive. I asked her a simple question, “Do you like endive?” I did say EN-DIVE not ON-DEEV. There is a difference, but if I can convince someone to try it, I certainly won’t correct their pronunciation. What I recommended she use was the sleek and elegant Belgian endive (yes, this is actually ON-DEEV).

These days, when I explore a new vegetable I don’t just take it home and play as I did early in my journey. I actually research and learn what I can about how to choose, store, and prepare it. This exploration took me to http://endive.com/. I look for recipes and give them a go. Having discovered Belgian endive last year myself, I was happy to throw Cuz a few ideas of the many uses of endive I have tried and enjoyed.

The first thing I had trouble accepting is that endive does not need to be pulled apart and washed like most produce. If you take off the outer leaves and wipe off the tips, you are good to go. For anyone who is looking for easy options in a busy life, this is perfect. Fear not, I have eaten enough endive in a short time to assure you that it is perfectly safe.

Naturally, I began the easy way; I added chopped endive to my salad. It adds a delightful crunch which we enjoy. Then I decided it was the perfect replacement for carb-laden chips with my beloved salsa. Stop and think about that a moment … delicious salsa with an edible scoop that is figure friendly. And don’t forget the guacamole!

The very design of the leaves, however, drew me to recipes that made the endive a more prominent ingredient. As an alternative to so many carbohydrates, endive became a clear replacement for me. An appetizer that once was crackers and cheese now has endive leaves and a soft cheese of choice. Sprinkling a few nuts (your choice) on this adds even more crunch.

If you are a novice, look for simple appetizer recipes, such as this one for Boursin in endive spears http://endive.com/node/106. When you see the beauty in the simplicity, you can create an appetizer masterpiece based on your own favorite flavors. Remember, in baking you must follow directions, in cooking – and preparing appetizer plates – be creative!

Endive madness took over and I found myself buying it every week. In addition to endive becoming the cracker for my cheese and the chips for my salsa and guacamole, it became the mini pita for my fajitas and the mini shell for my tacos. There are other leafy treats if you want bigger pitas and shells, but we aren’t talking about those today!

So start slowly, but go buy a head or two of Belgian endive in your grocery store or your local farmer’s market. Use it simply at first as a crisp and healthy substitute for chips and crackers. When you fall in love with it, as I have, you can explore the many recipes for soups and warm satisfying meals made with this lovely vegetable.

Enjoy!

Flavors of Fall ~ Let’s Talk Apple

I echo the sentiments of family and friends as I breath deeply and welcome my favorite season, the fall. I have always looked forward to back-to-school and the cool, crisp air. I loved colorful leaves, new notebooks and packing lunches. I still pack Barry’s lunch every day. Now I also look forward to the flavors of fall.

When the girls were little we added new family traditions and fall had one of the best. We took them to the cider mill near our home and let them watch an old time wooden press at work. Then we bought the cider we had just watched them make and took it home to enjoy. This fresh and delicious cider was one of many tastes that became the flavors of fall. Sadly this lovely place is no longer operational, but the memories live on in the Greynolds Family! http://theoldnorthbranchinn.com/NorthBranchNewYork/NorthBranchHistory/slideshow24.html

Barry and I love to go on adventures. If you know us well, you know what that means. We pack up and explore someplace we have never gone before and see where the journey takes us. A few of our most recent and favorite adventures have been right here in NY state. One fall adventure took us to points north and back toward home, south along the Finger Lakes. Along one of the country roads (Who takes highways on an adventure?) we stopped and bought a bushel of big, red, beautiful New York grown apples.

That purchase started the pursuit of apple recipes. I made applesauce, apple pie, apple dressing for chicken, apple cider reduction for pork, and last but not least apple bread. I tried many recipes and some were variations on a theme. Though that huge bag of apples seemed ridiculous for just us two, it went much faster than I would have believed.

I still make Barry’s favorite ~ the ultimate keeper ~ all of the time. He loves apple bread with walnuts. I tried several recipes before I settled on this one. I tried many from www.foodnetwork.com and http://allrecipes.com/. I tried apple, banana, and zucchini bread recipes, of course putting apple in all of them. Finally I found a wonderful combination that makes easy apple bread. And I call this compilation: SIMPLE APPLE BREAD. Clever, no?

Here goes:

SIMPLE Apple Bread

In a large bowl, mix:
3 eggs ~ try to remember to take them out ahead so they are room temperature
2 cups sugar ~ white or organic, but my beloved agave doesn’t work as well here
1 cup oil ~ I use canola, but use a vegetable oil that is light
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt ~ I use kosher salt in everything, but any salt you normally use is fine

Take two large apples. After I used up the original bushel, I discovered Gala apples. They are big and meaty and make marvelous bread. Cut off the skin of the top and the bottom. This gives you a flat base to sit the apple down. Then peel it by running the knife down and removing skin, but as little of the meat of the apple as possible. Grate the apples into the mixture and stir them in. Be sure to stir pretty quickly, as you may be surprised how fast they will brown sitting on top.

To complete your easy ingredients you will need to add 3 cups of flour. Add one cup of flour at a time and stir each in. Now I put chopped walnuts in this. I mean, I put A LOT of walnuts in this, but that is what Barry likes. You may wish to add a teaspoon of cinnamon too but that is not to our liking.

Grease two loaf pans and split the batter between them. I use spray oil and they never stick. I also bake mine in ceramic loaf pans, not metal.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Now what recipes don’t tell you but you may want to know is this. Time in any recipe is a guideline. Different ovens may bake differently. They may also bake unevenly. Try to set a timer for ½ hour and move the loaf pans around for more even baking.

I cool these loaves and cut into slices. Each slice gets zipper bagged and these treats go to school with Barry for morning tea and cake during his planning period. He leaves for work by 6:30 AM, which is an ungodly early hour to eat breakfast. So this treat is his breakfast.

These slices are also perfect to toast and spread with butter, apple butter, or jam of choice.

There are so many more tastes of fall, like pumpkins and root vegetables. We will talk about them another day. And there will be talk of soups. There are so many delicious soups for fall. For now, go buy some apples and enjoy a taste of fall!