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Easy Nonfat Giant Soft Pretzels–without weird ingredients!

Okay, one of the big mysteries of fast-food purchasing for me has always been those delicious giant hot pretzels. I always wondered how to do it, and all my attempts at shaping bread dough into pretzel shapes have been, while delicious (I mean, fresh homemade bread products of any kind are usually going to be lovely), hardly what I was looking for.

So today, my kids and I found a few online recipes and realized we could make these without any rising time, in maybe 45 minutes total, with only about 5 ingredients. And the result tasted exactly like I remember hot pretzels tasting when I used to buy them, only these have whole wheat flour and nothing weird in them.

So–on the next rainy day, try these with your short people, or just for the heck of it!

Giant Soft Pretzels 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (plus a few tbs) lukewarm water
  • 1.5 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3 cups flour (mixture of unbleached all purpose and whole wheat, if you wish)
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt
  • Coarse sea salt crystals to sprinkle on pretzels at baking time; alternatively, dipping them into a cinnamon/sugar mixture would be equally delicious.

For boiling

  • large saucepan with 2 quarts boiling water
  • 1/3 cup baking soda

Directions:

  1. Put pan of water with baking soda on to boil
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  3. Prepared greased baking sheet (not absolutely necessary, but this will make it much easier to get the pretzels off the sheet.)
  4. In large bowl, mix 1 cup water and yeast; let soften a few minutes
  5. Add flour, brown sugar, and salt; mix till soft dough forms. (Add a little more water as needed)
  6. Knead 5-10 minutes till dough is soft and elastic
  7. Cut into 8 equal sized pieces; roll into skinny 20 inch ropes and form into pretzel shapes
  8. 1 or 2 at a time only, drop pretzels into boiling water/soda for 15-30 seconds; remove with slotted spoon or spatula and place on baking sheet. (If you wish, this would be when you’d dip them into cinnamon/sugar or other spice mixture; otherwise, wait and sprinkle them all with salt before going into the oven
  9. Bake at 425 about 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

VERDICTSeriously, seriously good! Apparently it’s the baking soda in the boiling pot that gives you that “pretzelly” texture and flavor; now that I know this, I may use this method with other rolls and breads to make pretzel baguettes and things like that I know my kids love. And much much easier and less messy than I would have thought. 

Please, before you go buying any of the weird commercial ones (check out an ingredients list on the frozen ones in the grocery store, for example!), try this!

Bananas Foster (plus pudding or ice cream)

This blog gets less and less like a “green” blog and more like a “recipes for potentially really unhealthy foodstuffs that actually aren’t so bad if you make them yourself” blog with every day that goes by, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, it keeps us away from weird chemical processed things, so that’s not so bad. In fact, this pudding recipe–what’s to avoid? It’s good stuff, right?

In our house bananas are always going overripe before they are eaten, and at a certain point in the summer you just don’t want to turn the oven on for more banana bread, you know? So here’s a delicious couple of alternatives…these are also a good way to avoid adding much sugar, since cooking bananas really heightens the sweetness.

Easy Bananas Foster (base recipe–half or double as needed)

  • In a large skillet on medium high, melt 1-2 tbs. butter, 1-2 tbs brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Stir till melted and bubbly.
  • If desired, toss in a splash of brandy or rum and stir. I always do, because it adds to the flavor and enables me to stay on the lower side with the butter. (I never bother to flame it–who needs the added terror?)
  • Add 2-3 cut up bananas (or 4, I guess–go wild, you know?). If the bananas themselves are the main event, cut them in big diagonals; if you are making pudding or ice cream, go for thinner slices or even quartered slices.
  • Stir into brown sugar syrup for maybe 30 seconds till the bananas themselves start to disintegrate a little. Dribble in a few drops of vanilla extract and stir; remove from heat.

*****

Ridiculously easy, right? This takes, and I’m not kidding, maybe 2-3 minutes. We do this over ice cream, folded into crepes, folded into crepes with ice cream, and now added to pudding or ice cream. (In full disclosure, when the Pioneer Woman makes this, she uses a whole stick of butter and a whole cup of brown sugar to 2 bananas, so naturally if you want additional syrup knock yourself out. I prefer to exercise a little more restraint.)  So: the variations:

Bananas Foster Ice Cream/Popsicles

Use a little additional brown sugar and vanilla in the original recipe (but probably not much, since the cooked bananas impart a lot of sweetness!). After bananas are made, stir into 2 cups milk or half and half, depending on how decadent you want to be. Pour into popsicle molds or ice cream maker, and, you know, do what you do.

Bananas Foster Pudding

For this, I started with a base vanilla pudding recipe and simply combined it with the Bananas Foster:

  • In a large saucepan, combine 1/4 cup brown sugar (you might be able to adjust this down) and 3 tbs cornstarch and stir.
  • Add 2 cups milk; heat slowly over low/medium heat until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved; raise heat to medium. (If you feel daring, you could make the Bananas Foster right about now, or you could make it before or after the pudding. Just be aware that timing is sometimes an issue…)
  • Continue heating and stirring (make sure you get the bottom edges of the pan) until small bubbles form at the edges of the liquid and it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and remove from heat.
  • If you have not already made the bananas, do so now. Add bananas mixture to the vanilla pudding mixture. Pour into 1 large or 6 small bowls; cover and chill.

Again, green? Maybe not really. But these desserts are all full of whole and barely processed ingredients, and when you think about it, they really don’t have much that’s bad in them beyond a little refined sugar and a pat of butter. I’ve made this with 1% milk, and it tastes perfectly decadent.

Let me know if you try this, and how it works for you!

Ripe Strawberries, Ripe! (yummy dessert and liqueur recipe)

My kids are currently addicted to the movie “Oliver,” which my mom gave them the DVD of last month. They watched the whole movie once, but since then they just skip around from good song to good song. (And in Oliver, there are a lot of good songs.) Any other theater nerd who read the title to this blog entry probably already has the strawberry-seller’s part from “Who will buy?” in Act II going through their head.  I don’t apologize; it’s lovely, and when I was in high school I wanted to be the strawberry-seller.

But that’s not the point of the post, obviously…the point of the post is that we are in that time of year when strawberries, even organic ones (the only ones I buy–I thought I was allergic to strawberries until I started eating organic ones and had no problem, and then one day bought conventional and had inflamed bumpy lips after one bite.) are delicious and flavorful and cheap. So we tend to buy 2-3 lbs. at a time, and rarely do they sit in the fridge long enough to begin to go bad.

If they do–they get cut up and quickly frozen on a cookie sheet, for later use in smoothies, jam, pie, or whatever. It’s a no-lose situation if you remember that you can always freeze them.

But in the meantime, we’ve got two lovely things we do with them, and I wanted to share those. The first is a lightened-up (i.e. more fruit, less everything else) version of my favorite summer dessert that my mom used to make when we were kids

Strawberry “Pavlova” Dessert:

Rinse, stem, and cut up 3-4 oz. ripe fresh berries per person. (Our 4 family members easily go through a pound in a sitting. We’re gluttons, what can I say?) Pull off the green collars, and cut out the stem parts, but save any berry-like bits you cut off. More later on this.

Crush 1/2-1 vanilla meringue cookie per person into smallish bits (but not powder).

Make whipped cream, or be lazy and evil and use the canned stuff that says “made from real cream.” But the good stuff is so much better.

To serve:

Easy way: Put 1 serving berries into each bowl, sprinkle with crushed meringues, and dollop with whipped cream

Classier for-company way: In a parfait glass, layer 1/2 serving berries, 1/2 serving meringue bits, and dollop whipped cream; then repeat. Garnish with 1 small berry.

**********

This is seriously good, and really easy to do, and tastes amazingly decadent considering it’s only 3 simple ingredients. You could probably lighten it up a bit more even by substituting vanilla greek yogurt for the whipped cream.

And now…remember how I told you to save any cut-off berry-bits from the de-stemming process?

Fresh Strawberry Liqueur

This is a time-consuming process; it will take a couple of months at least to complete. On the other hand, it takes almost no active working time, so it’s painfully simple for something so good.

Prep: On your kitchen counter, at the beginning of strawberry season, place a clean mason jar. Fill it about halfway with 80-proof vodka, or a half and half solution of Everclear and distilled water. (If you will eat a lot of strawberries, use a quart jar. If you’re doing this for your first time, maybe start witha pint.)

Over strawberry season: Each time you stem and cut up strawberries, save the bits you cut off the hulls, that little bit where you can’t avoid cutting off some fruit. Drop them into the jar-o-booze. (Take off the green leafy collars, but the little stems themselves are no problem; whatever comes off the berries, drop it in the jar.)

When the jar is basically full: once your jar is full enough that the berries are no longer under the surface of the vodka, stop adding. (Or add a little more vodka.) The point is to keep the berries submerged. Shake the jar every couple of days or so. If you were inclined to drop half a vanilla bean in there, it would probably be amazing, though I’ve never tried it.

Alternatively–after a couple of weeks, you could drain the older strawberries out, making room for new–until your solution smells delicious and strawberry-y!

When to drain: Up to a 2 months after starting, or at least two weeks after adding the last berry-bits, strain through cheesecloth or clean muslin or even a coffee filter. Dispose of fruit; save boozy liquid. Call it “Strawberry Vodka” and stop here, if you want. It’s probably delicious as it is. But if you want to go the extra step…

To make the liqueur: If you have 2 cups of strawberry vodka, make a simple syrup out of 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water by heating them together until the sugar melts. (This is supposed to give you 2 cups solution, one of those cool paradoxical things, but I always have some extra.)  Let cool. In a large jar mix equal parts sugar syrup and strawberry vodka. Decant into bottles, label with contents and date you poured, and let mellow in a cool dark place for at least 2-3 months.

*******

This stuff is seriously good.  And don’t feel like you have to be limited to strawberries either–toss a few raspberries or cherries in there if they are on the verge of turning–pretty much anything except bananas would probably be great.

Let me know if you try this, and how it turns out!

Homemade Hand Sanitizer (Spray or Gel)

This has been a heckuva week. Concerts, CD sales, car died and needed a new fuel pump, oh yeah, and there’s this big looming holiday where I professionally must produce at the absolute highest level all year for three straight days of insanity while honoring the magical Holiday Family Warmth Imperative at home…

I’m a choir director, among other things. And my choirs are all getting sick. Sneezing, coughs, laryngitis, people with 2-week sore throats. I don’t want to get sick myself (choir directors do not get sick days in December), so I’m staying away from folks, not touching anyone except my family, and trying to wash my hands rabidly. I hate most commercial hand sanitizers; even the allegedly unscented ones give me headaches. So I looked up some recipes online for homemade hand sanitizers. They are basically pretty simple, and boil down to some easy-to-find ingredients (though not everyone has aloe gel in the house, it’s easy to buy, I got a big bottle at Trader Joe’s a year or two ago to put on burns) and about 5 minutes of effort.

*****

Homemade Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer

In a glass (pyrex?) bowl or measuring cup, mix together:

  • 1/4 cup aloe vera gel
  • 1/2 cup grain alcohol (er…okay, I guess not everyone has this in the house either…it’s for medicinal uses, really!)
  • 10-20 drops antibacterial essential oils

Mix well, funnel into a spray or squeegee bottle.  Shake well before using.

*****

That’s it. Easy as pie.

The nuances: if it’s too thick to spray well (though I have no problems with it), you could add a little distilled water, but not much or you’ll dilute the alcohol too much.  And your choice of essential oils will have a fairly significant effect both on its odor and its efficaciousness. Some favorites:

  • Tea tree oil--this is the heavy-hitter, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal.  Good stuff all around.
  • Manuka oil–similar to tea tree, but some say it’s even better at what it does.
  • Lemon oil–this can cause skin sensitivity, so use with caution and discontinue if your skin doesn’t like it, but this is a great germ-killer. Orange too, which is a little gentler
  • Lavender oil–I know, it smells all gentle and flowery, but it’s a hugely important medicinal oil. I use it liberally in almost everything I make–besides being antibacterial itself, it’s one of the gentler essential oils, which means you can get away with using more of it in a blend without it becoming too harsh.
  • Eucalyptus oil–blah blah blah antibacterial antiviral see above. Yet another. (There are lots of these!)
  • Rose Geranium–a very powerful medicinal oil, but honestly I find its flowery scent too strong to use for much. On the other hand, a drop or two of this added to a blend you find too medicinally smelling could gentle it up a bit.

My personal blend of choice is probably not the antibacterial heavy hitter it could be, but I use 9 drops lavender, 6 drops clary sage, and 3 drops lemon oil in mine. Mostly because I love this smell, it’s sort of my own personal antidepressant/antistress blend. Which, given my month, is probably going to be as key to avoiding illness as anything else. Tea tree and lavender together would be a good cheap effective blend.

So use it. Or something like it.  And don’t get sick.  And if you get sick, don’t come anywhere near me.

Posts may become a little more sporadic in the coming weeks, and instead of blogging about cool things to do for the holidays I’ll have to actually be doing them. Or I’ll link back to some of last year’s posts–as I recall, last January I had some slightly intelligent things to say…

Oy. God, I’m tired.

Meatless Monday–Supernachos!

Okay, I know grownups probably aren’t even supposed to admit to eating nachos, except at superbowl parties.  (Although, any of y’all who see “nachos” and go “FAT FAT FAT I’m not even going to READ!” might dare to take a look; these are very calmed down on the fat-and-calories front.)

Remember in college and young-adult-hood, when every time you went to the local dive bar with your friends and no one had enough money (or what you had you were determined to spend on as much beer as possible) to buy real food, so you got a giant plate of those fairly horrific nachos, with tortilla chips and loads of cheese that would soak through the chips, and salsa and guacamole and sour cream, and maybe you’d dare someone to eat 8 slices of jalapeno peppers and say you’d buy her another beer if she could do it and not reach for her water glass for a whole minute afterwards, and she did it and didn’t show her agony even though her mouth was on fire, not as much for the free beer as to show she was a real bad-ass?

Er…me neither.

The thing is, that icky plate of soggy fat-laden nachos can be healthed up quite a bit with a little effort and can even become a really good vegetarian-type dinner. In a hurry.

*****

Bean and Cheese Supernachos

Cover a plate–a non-huge one, preferably–with a single layer of tortilla chips. These can be your regular ordinary chips or choice, baked (less fat) if you choose, or even homemade (baked or fried), though I’ve never tried this. (The single layer part is key for any hope at making this a healthy dinner as opposed to a dressed up snackfest. You can make a really filling dinner of supernachos with maybe 8 or 9 total chips.)

Wait, could we please digress for a moment? My favorite of those “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light commercials: Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor:

And…we’re back. We were talking about remembering that we want this to be, at least to some extent, a healthy and body-feeding whole-food dinner kind of thing.

Okay, you have your single layer of chips on the plate.

Over the chips, layer 1/2 cup (or more, it’s your dinner, your appetite, and your calorie count–but these are non-fat, high protein, and really good for you) of black or other cooked dried beans. Again, these can be out of the can (drain first) or something you’ve cooked previously and store as a regular kitchen staple.  (Black beans, by the way, seem to cause less of a problem with…let’s just say, noxious methane emissions, FWIW…)

Sprinkle beans with a little cumin and garlic powder; you can add some red pepper or chili powder to this if you’d like.  Sprinkle with chopped or sliced jalapenos if you’d like…you can actually add any veggies you want here, but I tend to prefer my nacho veggies cold in the pico de gallo instead of heated over the chips, where they risk making them soggy. (Er…if it’s not Monday, and you’re not avoiding meat, this would also be where you’d spread some of last night’s chili or Saturday night’s shredded rotisserie chicken remains around too.)

Over this, sprinkle a reasonable amount of (organic and hormone-free) grated cheese, of whatever kind you like that melts well.  Again, the more cheese, the more saturated fat, so watch that commercial again and make your choice.  (Or just because it’s funny.) And the beans with their seasoning honestly make the extra cheese not as needed for texture and flavor.

Heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds, check to see if the cheese is melted, and then heat additionally at 15 second increments until it looks right. (Don’t just stick it in there for a minute on high, or you’ll have burny bubbly cheese on one side and cold unmelted on the other–trust me on this!)

Serve with lots of really good veggie-laden pico de gallo–i.e. fresh salsa you can either make yourself or buy for way too much money at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or probably any grocery store, or just cut up some tomatoes and peppers and onions into small chunks and toss them with just enough jarred salsa to hold them together and some chopped cilantro–guacamole, and if you must have something creamy and sour, try a little nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

*****

Now, obviously, if you want to really make this a healthy lovely meal with nothing for anyone to complain about–you’d leave out the two worst offenders, which are of course the tortilla chips and cheese, without which this obviously wouldn’t be nachos at all.  But if you wanted, you could skip the chips and put rice on that plate instead, and have a really good black-beans-and-rice kind of thing, and it’s almost as fast as the nacho version if you have some already-cooked rice around.  Or you could compromise and put the rice-and-beans, or just the beans, into small corn tortillas for bean tacos, or larger wheat tortillas for burritos.

But there’s something about those nachos…

Pass the jalapenos, please. 😉

Applesauce Bundt Cake

Okay, I made a bunch of really lovely applesauce…of course, then my kids decided they didn’t like it. Figures. So I have a quart of applesauce and only grownups to eat it.

So I made cake.  This is adapted from a recipe I found here, made a little more healthful…it’s really good!

Applesauce Spice Cake

Preheat oven to 350

In a large bowl mix:

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (or 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup powdered milk)
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Add (just till mixed):

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Pour into greased bundt pan and bake about an hour, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

VERDICT: Really good! This is a keeper.

Happy Birthday, Bear (Palaczinta!)

Eight years ago today, I became a mom.  Eight years ago today I first got a look at the pointy-headed purple-faced alien-looking creature who’d been kicking my rib cage over most of the summer and early fall. Now he’s this big tall kid who runs and reads Harry Potter and is too cool to hug his mom in front of his friends…It’s my boy’s birthday.

I told him he could have whatever he wanted for breakfast.  He asked for Palaczinta, a kind of Hungarian pancake like crepes, that my mom used to make for me when I was a kid and which we loved. My kids love them too.   The good thing about making them on a school day is that you can make the batter the night before and let it sit overnight in the fridge.

(Okay, remember my post at the Green Phone Booth about organic healthy whole food vs. organic not-even-remotely-healthy food? This is very clearly not on the right side of that line…be warned.)

Hungarian Palaczinta (makes about 16-18 pancakes)

In a large bowl, lightly beat with a whisk: 6 eggs, 1-2 tsp sugar.

Whisk in 2 1/2 cups milk, 1/2 tsp salt, and about 1 tsp sugar

Slowly add 2 cups flour, a little at a time and whisking well after each addition. It should be smooth and a little thick by the time you’re done.  Add a little more milk if it’s too thick.  I’ve heard that some also add a little nutmeg here, but I forgot.

Whisk in 6 tbs melted and slightly cooled butter. (Yes, that’s 3/4 of a stick of butter.  I told you this wasn’t very healthy.)

Let sit half an hour, or overnight in the fridge.  In the morning, if necessary, add a little more milk or up to half a cup seltzer water and whisk well to thin a bit

to cook:

Heat a 10 inch skillet, preferably with a little curve to the sides, to medium high heat. (If it’s nonstick, you can do this without additional butter.) Pour enough batter in the bottom of the skillet so that you can swirl it around to cover the bottom. Let cook about a minute, till the lacy edges are a little brown and it’s bubbling up a little in the middle, and flip over.  Cook another half minute on the second side, and remove to a plate.  Continue until all the batter is used, stacking the pancakes on each other as you go. (The really high amount of butter in here keeps them from sticking together! Sigh…butter…)

to serve:

To do this the proper Magyar way, you’d fill them with various cheese and fruit and nut mixtures and re-bake them. (Think Hungarian blintzes.) If you are my kids, you drizzle a little honey or maple syrup on them, or smear on some applesauce and a little cinnamon sugar, or jam, and roll them up.  Then you eat them with your fingers, drizzling sticky whatever all over the place and getting it on your clothes.

***

Now okay, I’m sure you could use whole wheat instead of white flour.  And I’m sure you could substitute some neutral oil for some or all of the butter, and probably use a good bit less of it.  But the fact is, these things are so simple ingredient-wise that changing any of the ingredients fairly dramatically changes the taste of the final product; I’ve never tried oil for the butter, but whole wheat for the flour is just not very pleasant in this context. (Maybe you could add some honey or something, or maybe the overnight sit would help remove some of the in-your-face whole-wheatiness of the flour?)

For us this is just one of those special occasion really-not-good-for-you things we do once in a long while.

Happy Birthday, Bear.

I have food on my face. (Mocha-Frappuchino Facial Mask)

I may have mentioned that Crunchy Betty rocks.

Today, since I had the ingredients all in my fridge, and since I was going to work from home this morning anyway, I decided to try her Mocha-Frappucino Facial Mask.  My face has been getting sort of dull and oogy, and since ditching most of the commercial products I haven’t really settled upon anything new to keep it life-ful, so I figured what the heck. So here I sit, with a sort of odd mixture of coffee grounds, cocoa powder, yogurt, and honey on my face. Feels sort of weird, but no weirder than any other mask I’ve ever used–what’s more bizarre is the delightful smell surrounding me–yes, this is food I’m wearing on my face.  It’s scary-easy to make, just mix equal parts (I honestly made way less than her recipe) coffee grounds, cocoa powder, and plain yogurt, with half-a-part honey (I did a teaspoon each of the first three and then half a teaspoon of honey, which was plenty for my face for one use), schmoosh them up good, and smear them on your face. Wait a bit, rinse off, while gently rubbing the coffee grounds around to exfoliate. Which I’m going to do now…hang on for a few minutes, okay?

VERDICT: Holy ever-loving Mother of God. I mean, with full out Hail-Mary-full-of-grace-thank-God-for-my-amazing-feeling-face.  (I don’t mean to take her in vain or anything–I’m sure if she had access to this facial mask she’d be just as blown away.) Wow, I totally didn’t expect it to be this unbelievable.  It took me longer than I expected to get back to my computer just because I was standing up there just sort of touching my skin for a few minutes, not quite believing what it feels like. Pores closed up, nice and smoothly consistent all over, no scary tingles or burny feeling or anything. Just plain…lovely.

A couple of notes: First of all, I didn’t take Betty’s advice on two fronts: one, she said if one is going to use recycled coffee grounds one should use ones that were very fresh, like within 20 minutes of brewing. And that due to mess, one should probably rinse it off in the shower.  I did not take these pieces of advice for one basic reason: I didn’t want to try this while my family was home, and sit there with a brown lumpy face at breakfast while I drink my coffee and have them give me crap over it.  So I waited till they were gone, then used the grounds, and washed in the sink.  I do not feel particular caffiene jitters at the moment, and I did not make a huge mess in the bathroom…but one of these days I should try it with non-used, freshly ground beans instead and see what comes of it.

All my friends whom I love–the next time you feel tempted to go out and buy some expensive facial mask or wash or whatever, please, please try this first! Do it when your loved ones aren’t home, you don’t have to tell anyone, just give it a shot. (Er…make sure you’re not allergic to any of the ingredients first, okay?)  It’s incredibly cheap, is ten times better than any store-bought mask I’ve ever found, and believe me I’ve found a few, and it’s AMAZING.

Okay, time to start working. With this lovely smell of chocolate still all around my face…

Meatless Mondays: Easy Pasta Fazool

Why not?  About time I got on the Meatless Mondays bandwagon, and after doing the Curried Lentils and Rice last week, I might as well make it an actual trend.

Pasta Fazool is my favorite “garbage soup” recipe–I go through the crisper drawer to see what’s starting to turn, and chop it up and throw it into the soup. It’s also one of the easiest variations on my staple “can of diced tomatoes plus can of broth plus whatever else equals soup” recipe. (The one I call “ur-soup.” Honk if you know what “ur” means.)

It doesn’t have to be meatless–from time to time I’ll throw a handful of chicken or a chopped up sausage in there, but usually only when there’s leftovers that need eating–it’s just as good from a purely veggie standpoint.  And you could use any other grain in lieu of pasta, or just leave it out; my kids are constantly not finishing their pasta for dinner, so we periodically have little containers of not-enough-pasta-to-do-anything-with, so I toss them into the soup.

Of course, if you leave out the pasta, I guess it’s not pasta fazool any more…

Easy Pasta Fazool

  • In a saucepan, saute a chopped onion in a little olive oil till soft; add a clove or two minced or crushed garlic and saute till golden and fragrant. (I love it when recipes, in the context of garlic, talk about doing something to it “till fragrant.” Is garlic ever not fragrant?)
  • Add other veggies as desired–cut up bell pepper, squash, eggplant, carrots, celery, whatever. (NOT spinach!) Saute till just softening.
  • Pour in a can of diced tomatoes and a can of broth; whatever broth you like is fine. Heat to simmer
  • Add a can of white beans, drained.
  • Season with a pinch or two each oregano, thyme, and/or basil. (NOTE: If you like the taste of Italian sausage but want to go veggie, take about a half-teaspoon fennel seed, crush or chop lightly with a knife, and add. This gives the soup that “sausagy” flavor!)
  • Let simmer 10-30 minutes, depending on when you feel like eating.
  • 5-10 minutes before serving, add a cup or so cooked pasta. Also a good time, if you wish, to dump in 1/4 cup or so prepared pasta sauce; this thickens and corrects the seasonings nicely, but is not essential.
  • 3 minutes before serving, if desired, add a handful frozen spinach and/or a tablespoon prepared basil pesto sauce.
  • Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan, if desired.

Good stuff–like I said, it’s one of our essential “staple” meals through autumn and winter.  This is our first time since last spring eating it, since summer doesn’t feel like soup weather–but it was nice to get back to an old friend.

Meatless Mondays: Curried Lentils and Rice

I honestly cannot be bothered to photograph my food, so please pardon me. (Unlike my brother, whose vacation photos consist largely of pictures of what he ate…)

But one of my favorite REALLY EASY things to make when I want something seriously health-ful, easy, meatless, and requiring not many ingredients is this lentil-and-brown-rice dish–delicious and easy, good complete protein, whole grain, just absolutely nothing bad to say about it.

Curried Lentils and Rice

In a saucepan with a lid, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. (You could use broth if you’d like.)

Add

  • 1 cup brown lentils (rinsed and picked)
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 tbs or so curry powder or garam masala of your choice
  • 1 28 oz. can (or quart jar) diced tomatoes with their juice

Stir and bring back to a simmer; cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until rice and lentils are cooked but not mooshy.

That’s it. You may want to play with the amounts of spices, you may decide to add onions or garlic or sauteed mushrooms or other veggies.  You may wish to omit the tomatoes. You can do pretty much whatever the heck you want; it’s still delicious. The lentils and rice take about the same amount of time to cook (don’t substitute white rice, or it’ll go to mush before the lentils are done!), and all that really matters is having two cups of water to one cup of lentils/rice.  This makes about 7 cups, which would probably feed 3-4 people, or 2 with lunch leftovers…

If you don’t have curry powder or garam masala–you can make do with your own spice blend, even if you don’t have all the ingredients.  Curry powder recipes are available all over the internet, but basically they seem to be a combination of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, with maybe a little cayenne if you like the heat. (I happen to love Pensey’s hot version…)  Garam Masala, an Indian spice blend, is another where there are about as many versions as there are Indian grandmas who make them, and it’s a lot like curry only you usually have some “sweet” spices like cinnamon, cloves and/or cardamon, and leave out the turmeric. (By the way, to really do this right you’d toast the spices in the pan first, then grind them, and THEN start the rest of the recipe; I really don’t ever do that…)

Which is to say, if you have cumin and cinnamon but not the others, throw some of that in with some black pepper, and it’ll probably be delicious. Futz around with spices, and don’t be afraid to mess things up.

Enjoy!