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rewind, recap

December 29th, 2010 | 6 Comments »

Every year seems to pass a bit more quickly than the last, or seem to anyway. I find myself peering at December’s calendar page often wondering how I got there; it’s not like I didn’t watch a glorious Spring burst into bloom in my yard, and beyond, or scuttle my way through the intensely hot summer, sweating in the kitchen at work and honing muscles I never thought I had. I did get all the freedom available to be able to fully appreciate the amazing and wondrous Autumn that landed in our midst, full of stunning color and temperate days of endless blue skies. I know all those seasons passed me, but still, here I am facing the last few weeks of 2010 and I find myself wondering “Just what did I DO this past year?”

And oh folks, when I think about that, I kind of get chills.

Because last year at this time, when I reflected over 2009, I was nearly in tears. Well, I was in tears. 2009 was hard. Very hard. Maybe you’ve noticed I’m a bit tender-hearted? That I feel my life pretty deeply? 2009 was like a constant rasp on my skin that I couldn’t get away from. I was so eager for another year, for the flip of the calendar page that spoke of new promise, of opportunity and chances to climb out of the darkness that seemed to chase after me in 2009. I wanted life to get better, and it far and away surpassed my expectations. 2010 had copious fanfare, waving flags and plenty of ‘Hip, Hip, Hooray!’ moments.


How can you NOT think your year will be amazing when in the very first month your life changes dramatically in one night, your simplest food idea ends up on The Kitchn website and sends 1000’s of hits to your humble little blog and you find the world’s most perfect waffle recipe ever?

I knew after I met up with 40 other bloggers from Minnesota last January that something very fundamental began shifting in my life, but I had no idea the lengths it would go to infiltrate the kind of friendships it has. The women I met that night have changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly. They are amazing. And God sent. And beautiful. And real. A year later and I feel as if we’ve only scratched the surface of where it will go. That in itself is incredible. I can’t wait to see where this leads in the year ahead.


The second month brought an increased desire to really stop and look at the world around me each day, as I dove into Project 365 with a photo a day. I was posting on Flickr, then stopped, but the habit has more or less continued and I love scrolling back over my photos, seeing what life was showing me each day. This month was filled with some really simple pleasures like Chocolate Toll House Bars, Pumpkin Pancakes and White Bean Salads. It was also the month that a part of my past went up in flames in South Minneapolis.

It was a month where I began to be less concerned about deviating from food posts on this blog, and started exploring other means of using it to talk about my life.


March always starts with my birthday. 2009 was a stellar celebration as I turned 45 with a blow-out party. It was quieter this year. There were Oatmeal Pancakes, a pan of Gingerbread that kept mysteriously disappearing every time I looked at it and the discovery of one of my most favorite simple meals. But it ended in a life-changing halt when my beloved Harmon became so sick that we needed to put him to sleep. His 17 years in my life still grips at my heart sometimes with a sorrow that dissolves me.

But then came


We renewed ourselves, I discovered how incredible Boursin cheese could be when blended with Spinach, I started seeking out more memories of my life through baking childhood favorites and Eli came bouncing noisily into our lives spreading love and affection at every turn. I also became gainfully employed again, as the Pantry Chef at a local Yacht Club. It was a palpable relief to our finances.


I worked. A lot. I thought it was a lot anyway, but in May I had no clue how hard and how much I was about to work. I managed to enjoy the fruits of Spring with Cardamom Spiked Rhubarb Crisp, and Roasted Apricots in Cardamom Syrup. But little else came from my kitchen, as I was absorbed and enfolded into a job that would push me through the next five months like a tsunami in my life.


I managed to blog about strawberries soaked in brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, and share a superbly simple and delicious Fish Taco with you all, not to mention a post about the beauty that was bursting out all over my garden. But that was about it. The job engulfed my life. And me.


How was your July? Hot? Fun? Did you take a vacation, go to the beach, explore somewhere new? I managed to make a stellar Pizza Burger, found out how wonderful Guacamole can be when you grill all the items first, and captured high summer in my garden. But that was it for me. July? What July? At least I managed to pick Blueberries.


Huh? August? Really? I dealt with a bounty of garden tomatoes and I made Chipotle Lime Roasted Nuts. Someone hold me back from the excitement. I worked and sweated more than I thought was possible. At home, I did little else but drink coffee and do laundry. However, at night when I was done and life quieted down, the summer unfolded some amazing night-time weather to enjoy.


The ninth month was like one long deep breath for me. Work slowed down enough for me to be able to look around and really see what kind of life was going on. Griffin started 11th grade, the weather turned and I made Applesauce. The colors began unfolding their glory and soup started simmering on the stove. I reflected heavily on ‘Where I’m From’.


Glorious, delirious October. Probably the most stunning Fall season I have ever known. Warm days, cool nights and color splashes everywhere, beyond your craziest imagination. We walked around in a fog of delight, enraptured of the weather. Really, it was all we talked about. And work ended in a wave that was full of bittersweet relief.  I utilized thinking on a different view of life, made Apple Streusel Bars and a Blueberry Coffee Cake out of Rice Krispies. But the month ended with a cracked up car and a messed up skull despite the joy of saving 6 feline lives.


It was National Blog Posting Month. I blogged every. single. day. I loved it, but I’ll spare you a recap of it all as I mostly resuscitated recipes from my archives (did you KNOW I have a Recipe Index? It’s up at the top of the page!). There was, however, a stellar Peanut Butter Banana Bread, Sweet Potato Biscuits and Whole Wheat Muffins with Quinoa and Squash. It was a delicious month.

And now, it’s


entered a contest and my recipe took 2nd Place. I got paid to write a blog post, my very first paid blogging job, and I created an amazing Curried Squash and Corn Risotto. I also baked another memory, which I am swiftly finding to be my most favorite aspect of writing this blog.

And now, time to move on again into 2011. Again I feel that something big is on the horizon, and there is promise already with this blog, which you will read about as it unfolds after the new year begins. It’s going to be a good start to 2011, and one that I hope will lead to a lot of other opportunities. It’s nice at this point to feel so blessed by the past 12 months. It gives me much more hope for the next 12.

perfect christmas

December 21st, 2010 | 7 Comments »

I have a lot of Christmas photographs, wrapped carefully in paper envelopes, high on a shelf in a box in my closet. It’s pre-digital Christmas, numerous shots of Griffin, and my siblings surrounded by piles of paper wrapped gifts, sporting huge smiles. I don’t pull them out much to look at physically because the images are stored in my head; multiple Christmases full of insane laughter and a wide-eyed little boy opening box after box from his adoring aunts and uncles. The year he was three, his pile of presents towered over him, and he proudly stood next to the stack, his eyes shining in anticipation.

(photo from wallpaper sphere)

It was a lot, those piles of gifts. Too much, and I had to gently tell my siblings not to indulge him so much. They couldn’t help it, and it made for a pretty joyful Christmas, especially in those early years with Griffin and I as there wasn’t always the best of circumstances in our lives. My siblings never let my boy go without, and helped me to give him some delightful Christmas experiences.

(photo from hubpages.com)

It's hard to express what a perfect Christmas entails, and everyone has a different opinion about it. It's about the food, or the goodies served, or the decorations. It's the pile of gaily wrapped gifts, with ribbons and glitter. Or it's the gathering of the clan. Our culture has given us George Bailey's Christmas, with the ringing of the christmas bell as the angel gets it's wings, or Ralphie pining for his Red Ryder BB gun. It's also given us Linus, eloquently stating the true meaning of Christmas on a dimly lit stage as his friends watch and listen. But in many ways too, far more than I wish to understand, our culture has forced a sense of commercialized perfectionism on a holiday where the true meaning of why it's celebrated has been painfully lost.

(photo from viewpoints)

It's lean for us this year, far leaner than we expected as we had to replace our furnace last Friday. But we're not a big blowout kind of Christmas family anyway. We're really simple, and most of our gifts, in all honesty, were purchased all together last week. Griffin needed basketball shoes, and asked for a new basketball. I wanted a better computer bag and Mike needed a few items as well and so we just bought them together, making sure we got what we needed. There will be a few wrapped gifts under the tree, but we reflect and focus on the meaning of the season far more than the gifts. We count our blessings amidst the dwindling numbers in our pocketbook. We know..... really, it could be far worse. I've been there. I've been face to face with poverty and want; struggling to feed a little boy and myself, shrinking to the tiniest I've ever been because I wasn't eating enough. I've laid awake at night, listening to the little boy sleeping peacefully, and shook in fear over the speedy onset of Christmas, and being so poor that I couldn't even consider what gifts I could wrap for him. And twice in my life, for two consecutive years, the spirit of Christmas, the generosity that pours out of others spilled into my life like a flood and gave me reason to celebrate when the effort of putting one foot in front of the other was about all I could do each day.
(photo clipart from christmasgifts.com)
In 1996, Griffin was two and Christmas was approaching and I was working a minimum wage job that barely kept us floating. It was really an awful time for me, but my boss became my first Christmas angel when she delivered a box at work for me from her teacher husband's high school class. They'd gathered items to give to charity, and as her story went, they had more than they needed so she asked to bring the excess to me. I don't recall how many years passed before I realized that I was part of that charity, but the box I brought home held enough items for me to be able to give my boy a wide array of presents on Christmas Day and I recall weeping with relief as I removed toy after toy from that carton, along with some very nice items for me. Every Christmas, I think of her generosity and grace, of how she lifted me up without my even knowing. We just recently reconnected on Facebook and I plan to thank her again for being the angel she was that year.

(photo from majorly cool things)

The following year I had a similar experience, and I recounted it in this post about my most favorite Christmas ornaments. Again, a friend stepped up and gave of themselves to help lift my spirits and make a better celebration for my little guy. It was the last year that I struggled against the tide that was trying to push me over the edge, and the remaining years of Griffin’s young life were much more hopeful.

(more from majorly cool things)

It isn’t about the number of packages under your tree, as the Grinch clearly found out. The Who’s down in Whoville knew exactly what it meant, each dawn of December 25th. We’ve faced some pretty mean challenges from life in the past few years but each time we feel like we’re teetering on a cliff about to slip off, something happens and the ground stabilizes. We’re blessed. And we know it. It’s hard to see among the trials we face each day, but when we awake this Saturday, we know in our hearts what really matters. We’ll sit by our lush Balsam pine, thick with ancient memories and stories, with glittery ribbon tinsel and sparkling tiny lights and we’ll smile and enjoy each other and the safety and warmth of our home. We’ll celebrate with family, laugh and drink and eat and laugh some more. The gift is here, right now, with us. It won’t be found in a box, no matter how beautifully it’s wrapped, or a meal that’s carefully thought out and prepared, or even in a plate of cookies.

The perfect Christmas is here, in the heart, with us all the time.

Merry Christmas to all,

and to all, a good night!

(photo from teal town)

seeking a memory

December 16th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Baking has always been about connections for me, most importantly, to my Mom. I treasure many of the delicious recipes that defined my childhood and love seeing some of those old favorites show up in the multiple blogs I follow. Cookies like Chocolate Crackles, a moist fudgey cake-like cookie with a powdered sugar coating,

{photo courtesy of Food Librarian}

and Nainamo Bars, or as we grew up with, Three Layer Bars, a superbly decadent blend of nuts, chocolate, coconut and vanilla pudding, carefully constructed into a glamorous tower that delights not only the eye but the tastebuds as well.

{photo courtesy of small home, big start}

These treats played a significant role in our lives, and it’s been such a joy to re-create these for family gatherings and be able to see my siblings once again appreciate some of the tastes of our past.

I personally have been searching for yet another taste of childhood, one that’s eluded me up until now- the taste of my Mom’s Date Bars. She made these especially for me, and for my sister Karen. We both loved the chewy date filling and crunchy oat topping. I was known to seek out the treasured edge pieces where the dates caramelized in the baking process, becoming firm and chewy, like date jerky if you will. I loved how it kind of stuck in my teeth, a sugary toffee feel in my mouth and I loved the anticipation of how the topping would crumble as I bit into it, catching the errant bits in my hand as they fell.

My Mom’s recipe box sits in my cupboard, but no matter how many times I combed through it, I never found that particular recipe, the only one over the years that’s been outside my grasp. I’ve tried several other versions that have passed my eyes and not one has even been close. It was probably one of those recipes that came on a carton of oatmeal, that she made a few times and somehow lost it in a move, or quite possibly, it was something she’d memorized, a small part of my growing up that went dark when she passed away. I could make her Peanut Butter Fingers, and the Coffee Toffee Bars that we loved; I could make the Sour Cream Drop cookies with the mocha frosting and pan after pan of Oatmeal Scotchies, even a batch of her famous Banana Bread but I could never find a recipe that brought back those Date Bars. I scanned dozens of them, and each one was cast aside, as I knew just looking at it that it would never be what I expected.

Then I happened upon a recipe that sounded like the siren call bringing me back to that sunny kitchen, my Mom’s smiling face and those chewy caramelized edges of a bar that was just perfect.

And years of wishing for one thing, one perfect treat from a time when I was small enough to lean an arm on the kitchen counter and be soothed by a crunchy and chewy bar made just for me, well that all fell away as I lifted the parchment sheet holding the thick mass out of the pan in my own sunny kitchen. The smell of these fragrant date bars made its way to my nose and the memory caught in my throat, threatening to send the tear ducts into overdrive. Smell and taste are so powerful in us, so driving us to seek those parts of our lives that have faded, sometimes too far for us to even recognize any longer. But this one had stayed, regardless of how long it had been, how far back I had to go to retrieve it, one whiff of this recipe and I was a tiny girl again, watching my Mom, with the scent of cooked dates in my head and the anticipation of that first bite, the shards of crunchy oats falling to my open palm, and her smile warm in my eyes.

And I happily welcome back this treasured memory. I’ve been patiently waiting for it to return and now it will have a permanent spot in my kitchen.

Oat and Nut Date Squares
adapted from an original recipe, author unknown.

1 8-oz package chopped dates (or equivalent of fresh)
1/4 c. black raisins
1 c. water
Zest from half a clementine (you can use orange zest, but measure 2 teaspoons for equivalent)
1-2 t. clementine juice  (use 1 t. fresh orange juice)

1/2 c. ground almonds ( sub in walnuts or pecans if desired)
1/2 c. each whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour
1/2 t. table salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground cloves
1 c. packed brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced, softened but still fairly cold.
1 c. old fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350° and spray an 8×8 baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper so that it hangs over edge of pan.

In small saucepan, combine dates, raisins and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until all liquid has been absorbed and fruit is a thick, concentrated paste. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in clementine zest and juice and blend well. Scrape onto a plate and spread to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, place ground almonds, both flours, salt, soda and spices. Pulse to combine. Add in brown sugar and pulse to blend. Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture is like coarse uneven meal. There should be lumps of butter in all sizes. Pour this into a large bowl and stir in the oats.

Press 2/3 of the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing down firmly. Spoon cooled date mixture over, spreading it to cover crust completely. Sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the top. Bake until top crust is golden brown and crisp, 30-40 minutes.

Cool bars completely on a rack, still in the pan. Once bars are at room temperature, gently lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Slice into 2″ squares to serve. These bars are delicious when chilled. Keep in airtight container or refrigerated.

curried sweet potato & corn risotto

December 13th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Risotto is one of those dishes that scares people. Somehow it’s considered a demonic culinary principle, a dish that’s reserved for restaurants and someone willing to stand over a steaming pot and stir, stir, stir, stir until their arm falls off. Who has that kind of discipline?

While there is some truth that risotto is time consuming, and does need attention, I’ve managed to make beautiful creamy pots of it by simply standing by, keeping the flame tempered and making sure the rice doesn’t stick. And I don’t focus on it diligently, spoon in hand, because I’ll tell you something that may force some die-hard, principled professionals to throw rotten tomatoes at me in dispute-

risotto does not need to be stirred constantly.

So there, I said it, and I will uphold this truth until the day I die. I’ve done it both ways. I’ve stood by that pot stirring until I am completely zoned out by the motion, and I’ve dumped in the broth, given it a couple of whirls with the spatula and walked away. Yes. I’ve walked away from risotto and lived to tell the tale. While this is no meal to get on the table quickly, with some time and a bit of care, you can make it without making yourself crazy.

And one comforting thing you ought to know about me, for as many pots of creamy perfect risotto that I have managed to get out of my kitchen, there have been plenty that have failed miserably. They’ve gotten over-cooked and mushy and just downright wrong. Both from being constantly stirred and not, just so you can’t point out a fault to my procedure. Make it perfect one time and you feel like a genius. You do it again, bursting with confidence of your skill and the next pot is like sloppy porridge. Ugh. My only suggestion to mastering risotto is to just make it. And make it again, and again and again because you will learn to watch the rice kernels and see how they change (whether you are stirring constantly or not) and you will see how it transforms with the broth and added ingredients from singular grains to a homogenous dish.

And please take comfort in the fact that this particular risotto that I’m going to talk about came out a bit overcooked.

But it tasted amazing, and that’s the focus of whatever risotto you make, whether the texture is perfect or not, think more of the taste and the flavors in your mouth and less that it needs to be some level of award-winning achievement. There is no such thing as perfection, especially in cooking. Risotto is one to never give up on, too.

This Curried Sweet Potato & Corn Risotto was another Iron Chef moment for me; I needed a dinner plan, yet again at 3:30 and scanned the cupboards and fridge for options. There was arborio rice and there was a stack of sweet potatoes on the counter. And there was corn in the freezer. My brain suddenly jumbled this all together, along with the bright sunny curry colors and I sat down to determine the best way to make it work. I settled on shredding the sweet potato in order to incorporate it more evenly in the cooking process, and adding the frozen corn in the last 5 minutes to cook it just enough but to preserve some of the crispness of the kernels. The end result, despite being, like I said, slightly overdone, was a superb flavor, and so cheerful in our bowls.

Curried Sweet Potato & Corn Risotto

The entire process for making risotto will take 35-45 minutes. For the last 15 minutes or so, you probably will need to stick close to the stove and stir more, but the first part of it can be somewhat unattended.

Many risottos use wine, and are finished with parmesan cheese. For this curry version, I did not use wine or cheese as I didn’t think it would match with the flavors of the curry.

1 c. arborio rice (or carnaroli works too)
2 qts chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves fresh garlic, divided
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated on a box grater
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1-2 T. curry powder

In a medium saucepan, heat the stock to a bare simmer with the fresh thyme sprigs, and two cloves of the garlic that have been roughly chopped. Stir and keep warm over low heat.

For the remaining two cloves of garlic, mince very fine. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or use butter, or both- that’s what I prefer) add the garlic and saute over medium heat until fragrant, stirring to prevent scorching. Add in 1 tablespoon of curry powder and stir to blend, then add in the rice. Stir to coat the rice with the garlic and curry powder, and cook, stirring regularly, until grains are somewhat translucent, about 5 minutes.

Ladle about two cups worth of the warm stock into the skillet with the rice and stir to blend. Maintain a gentle simmer, stirring on occasion, until the stock is absorbed. Be sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. The mixture should simmer gently, but never boil vigorously. When the grains have absorbed the stock, ladle in about 2 more cups worth. Repeat, allowing this to absorb and keeping the grains from sticking. You won’t need to watch it constantly, but stay close and just check it occasionally.

After the second round of stock is absorbed, add about a cups worth of shredded sweet potato to the rice, and a ladle or two of stock. You want to give it enough liquid to loosen it and allow it to simmer, but not so much as before. Stir and allow to absorb. Add another ladle, and repeat. Now test a grain or two. They should begin to yield to your bite, with some firmness remaining. Add in the corn, a few more ladles of stock and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Test the grains again. At this point, the mixture should look smoother and beginning to come together with a creamy sauce. Keep testing the grains and adding just a little stock if needed. If you like the idea of more curry flavor, go ahead and stir more curry powder in to the grains. By now, you will probably be stirring a bit more to prevent sticking. Stir, test the grains and add a little more stock until the mixture has a wonderful creamy texture.

Season it with salt and pepper and serve as soon as possible. Risotto doesn’t always hold well.

love your lycopene

December 8th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

The primary reason for the type of cooking I do is my health. Our health. This has been at the front of my mind since Griffin began eating solid foods as a baby. Before he was even born I knew I wanted to be able to feed him in a healthy manner, with fresh scratch-made foods and a lot of variety. It felt at times like a monumental task, being entrusted to feeding. teaching and educating this blank palate he had, and giving him the tools to grow strong and vital from the inside out.

I made the majority of his baby foods from scratch, from the foods I was eating. Granted, this was only 15 years ago, but I came across an incredible amount of ignorance over it, people who told me he would suffer from malnutrition because of the foods I fed him. I was appalled at the ignorance. Here I was, cooking carrots, beans and squash, pureeing them smooth and using them for his meals and I was accused of not feeding him properly. What about that was wrong?

Now flash forward to the presence; this type of cooking for your baby is the gold standard. Scratch foods are the goal, and one’s health through the foods they eat is the #1 topic on most anyone’s mind. Obesity and diet related diseases are out of control. If ever there was a time to take control of one’s health by what we put in our mouths, now would be it. And so what moves through my kitchen has to pass a certain level of scrutiny; is it a whole food? without trans fats? no MSG? low in sodium? what are the health properties? and probably most importantly, how can I do all of this and maintain our food budget?

One aspect of cooking that I try to utilize as much as possible is to fill each meal with multiple items that all contribute to healthier eating. I use a lot of legumes when I can, fresh vegetables wherever possible and load up a pot of soup with everything imaginable.

This Hearty Minestrone is a perfect example of the type of soup we love in this house; rich and delicious, chock full of good things.

Canned tomato products make a regular appearance in my winter repertoire, my bubbling pots of chili, soups of all kinds, warming roasts and numerous pasta dishes. The presence of heart-healthy lycopene is very high in tomatoes, and has found to be much more readily absorbed from canned products than in fresh ones, and you know, finding a good tomato in Minnesota during the winter months is a laughable matter. Being able to pull out a can of tomato product to add the all-important element of health to our diet makes dinnertime a bit easier. On the plus side, using Hunts tomato products insures top quality standards, as the tomatoes are Flash steamed, preserving the full flavor of tomatoes for home use year round.

ConAgra Foods recently presented effective evidence for the benefits of lycopene in the American diet, stating that the health advantages of tomato products, in addition to the lycopene, include significant levels of Vitamin C, fiber and potassium, more than twice the potassium of notable sources such as bananas, potatoes or orange juice. In conjunction with research done at the University of California-Davis, participants in a six-week study who experience high blood pressure found a marked decrease in numbers when they consumed twice daily amounts of canned tomatoes. (Source: Tomatoes: The Everyday Superfood for Heart Health)

But back to that Minestrone, shall we?

Hearty Minestrone
Adapted from Tyler Florence, Real Kitchen cookbook

2 quarts chicken stock
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 # small rigatoni, or other hearty shape of pasta
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
3/4 pound loose Italian pork sausage (sweet, or hot- both work well)
3 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes (I like to use the Hunts brand with basil added.)
1 bay leaf
1-2 15-oz cans cannelloni or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 10-oz package frozen green beans, preferable the steam-in-the-packet kind
1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced

-Combine the stock, crushed garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme in a big saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes to give the stock a nice, garlicky herbed taste. Keep warm.
-Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the rigatoni.
-Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with the side of a big spoon until well browned.
-Add the carrot, onion and celery to the saucepan and cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.
-Stir in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, cannelloni beans, green beans and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally. The soup will develop more flavor the longer it simmers. Cook over a very low flame for up to two hours, or for as little as 30 minutes, depending on how much time you have. Remove the herb stems before serving.
-Cook the rigatoni according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
-To serve soup, place a small amount of cooked pasta in the bottom of a soup bowl and ladle the hot soup over the top. Sprinkle with the parsley, and shredded parmesan cheese, if desired.

I like to keep the pasta separate from the actual soup when I make Minestrone due to the pasta’s amazing ability to absorb a phenomenal amount of liquid. It is, however, entirely up to you and I certainly can’t deny the added flavor of cooking the pasta in the incredibly flavorful broth that this recipe makes. For an extra delicious added flavor, top slices of good crusty bread with shredded parmesan cheese and broil until browned and toasty, then float them on the soup.

I was compensated financially for this post in cooperation with The Motherhood.com We Heart Tomatoes campaign, ConAgra Foods and Hunts Tomatoes. Sources included information supplied by ConAgra Foods. All other information in this post was my own opinion.

your vote is appreciated

December 7th, 2010 | 3 Comments »

Now it’s all up to you.

There was the soup……

for the Iron Foodie Contest, sponsored by Marx Foods and The Foodie Blogroll

Iron Foodie 2010 | Here's Why that will be me:
MarxFoods.com -- Fine Bulk Foods The Foodie BlogRoll

And now the polls are open and it’s time to vote. There are 25 recipes and 4 prizes, all in the amount of credit for the Marx Foods website, so anything that comes my way likely will go back to you in the form of yet another delicious post.

Help a girl out, please?

ornamental memories

December 5th, 2010 | 18 Comments »

My friend Missy, the Marketing Mama has gathered some blogging friend together to talk and reminisce about Christmas ornaments that they love, and the reasons why they’re so important to them. I knew I had to participate in this fun blog carnival because I’ve often considered the fact that should I ever have a fire in my home, one thing I know I would be crushed to lose would be my boxes of Christmas ornaments. The history that unfolds each year as I pull them out and unwrap them never ceases to amaze me, and to fascinate Griffin. He loves looking them over as much as I do, and has contributed many ornaments over the years that are absolutely priceless to me.

And that’s where I will start…. with the first ones he gave me.

This wreath was made when he was in Kindergarten, in the after school program he went to each day.

It’s the simplest thing; a hangar twisted until it was round and then covered with dozens of strips of cut white plastic garbage bags that were tied on. Here you can see a little more detail.

My little guy was mighty proud of this when he showed it to me, and I was really impressed, especially when his teacher told me that he was very diligent about tying his strips on to ‘make it look really nice’. I’ll never forget his face as she praised him, and when he handed it to me. He looked like he could burst wide open. This wreath graces our front door every year, and I love how it looks against the lovely green tone.

The very same year, from his actual Kindergarten class came this adorable little Christmas tree, complete with his Kindergarten picture. It’s faded almost to gray and most of the glitter has worn off, but it is always placed in a very prominent position on our tree every year.

The best part about this particular one is that I have one to match it from when I was in Kindergarten. That faded little paper chain was something I put together when I was but a five-year old too, some 30 years before my own young man. His is imbedded with the year 1999, and mine was made in 1969. These two ornaments always hang next to each other.

Another treasured set of ornaments date that far back as well, and likely even before. These are ones that my Grandma made for us each year.

Some of them even still carry the tags she attached, penned in her careful script.

Each year on Christmas Eve, my Grandma came to our house for dinner. We loved her arrival because she always had a box with her, filled with her handmade ornaments, one for each of us. She had 15 grandchildren, and she did this for all of them each year. We loved the anticipation of what was to come, and often mobbed her to help her with her coat, get her boots off and have her situated so she could bring out our box. We would then rush to our huge tree in the corner to add it to the staggering wealth of ornaments hanging there already. It seemed like each year when we opened our boxes that we had so much to place on that tree. I get that same feeling now, but I place them all carefully so that I can see each one. My Grandma passed away in 1988 and had long gotten out of the habit of making our ornaments each year, but to have these on my own tree always reminds me of her warm smile and the way she would throw her arms around us to give us those perfect grandmotherly squeezes.

I have even yet another set of very special ornaments that were given to me by a friend when Griffin was three years old.

These are superbly old fashioned glass ornaments and are very fragile. I’ve lost a few over the years to eager little fingers but when I pull them out of their tissue packing I remember a year that was very difficult for me, and a friend that stepped up to try and add some necessary cheer to a cheerless situation. It was my first Christmas as a single parent, I had little money and was feeling extremely sad about celebrating. This friend took me out shopping one evening and bought me a small little tree for my tiny apartment, a stand to put it in, a cute holiday tree skirt for underneath, some light strings and a few ornaments, including this set. They simply said ‘You need to have Christmas for your little boy.’ and I was not allowed to say ‘No’. I’m very grateful for that generosity because it helped make our first Christmas alone a little bit better. Growing up, we had a small box of old-fashioned ornaments that were very similar to these so they carry fond memories of when I was really young too.

One last decoration that requires special mention is this porcelain christmas tree.

Griffin’s paternal Grandmother gave this to me many years ago. I had always admired it in her home each season, and when she moved from a house to an apartment, she passed on many treasures to me, including this little tree. It has tiny glass bulbs that slip into holes on the tree branches, and when it’s plugged in it shines with it’s numerous colored lights on a lamp stand in my office. It’s so unique, and so perfect. Grandma Annie passed away this past March, yet she left me several wonderful keepsakes of her and this tree will always have a place in our holiday decor.

This year, on a whim, I took that old tree skirt from my friend, the one that covered that tiny Christmas tree in 1997 and laid it out for the cats to use as a festive means of celebrating Eli’s first Christmas with us.

Because I think everyone in this house should get into the holiday spirit, even if they’re covered in fur.

Join the rest of the bloggers participating in this fun walk down memory lane. Follow the links to their sites to see what they’ve got hanging around their homes this holiday season.

warming winter soup

December 1st, 2010 | 30 Comments »

It’s time, everyone. Time to roll back my sleeves, part the curtain and say ‘Ta-Da!!’ to the recipe created for the Marx Foods and Foodie Blogroll Iron Foodie Competition.

Iron Foodie 2010 | Here's Why that will be me:
MarxFoods.com -- Fine Bulk Foods The Foodie BlogRoll

It’s something wholly appropriate for winter, for soothing the soul and senses and for nourishing the body and boosting one’s resolve to face the chill of the day, the brisk wind at your back and whipping through your hair.

Within the bowl of steaming soup, of soothing soft noodles to slurp and crunchy sprouts, there’s a sense of calm that begins to spread over you with the very first mouthful. Outside lays the endless expanse of snow, as far as you can see and the memory of dragging a cartful of groceries through the parking lot, turning your back to the wind that cut through you with the precision of a laser…. it sticks in you like a bad dream almost. My coat gets stiff in the cold, and even though I may be warm inside, the crackle I hear when I move my arm sounds like the material could shatter at the slightest touch.

Winter just means soup, and this soup was a perfect tonic for that trip to the grocers, and really, for any nagging sense of imbalance that might cross your day.

The Iron Foodie Challenge was to utilize at least three ingredients from the Mystery Box sent to the contestants from Marx Foods. Everyone’s box contained Fennel Pollen, Smoked Sea Salt, Tellicherry Black Peppercorns, Bourbon Vanilla Beans, Maple Sugar, Dried Aji Panca Peppers, Dulse Seaweed, and Dried Wild Porcini Mushrooms. Our products were sample sizes only, so basically we had a pretty small window to work with. I knew I had to really think over my recipe before taking it to the kitchen because I couldn’t screw up. I had no back-ups.

Right away, I knew it would be a noodle soup. With the seaweed and porcini mushrooms, a big steaming bowl of noodle soup was a given. I love having one set down in front of me in a restaurant, the scent of rich broth reaching my nose, golden noodles, green herbs and lots of wonderful vegetables. I contemplated adding chicken to mine, but settled on tofu to use up a container in my refrigerator. The result was wonderful, and Mike and I sat down next to each other, forks in hand and happily slurped from the bowl, exclaiming over the subtle bursts of flavor.

Warming Winter Soup

From my kitchen:
One block extra firm tofu
4-oz soba noodles
1/2 c. fresh bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

From Marx Foods:
Fennel Pollen
Dried Porcini Mushrooms
Dried Aji Panca Chilies
Dulse Seaweed
Smoked Sea Salt

Take the block of extra-firm tofu and slice through it the wide way into three equal portions. Place on several layers of paper towel and cover with several more paper towels. Place something heavy over the three portions and weigh it down to press the liquid out.

In a small bowl, measure 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fennel pollen and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked sea salt. Whisk to incorporate and set aside to blend the flavors. Whisk occasionally to combine.

Bring a kettle of water to a rolling boil. Place dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Place dried peppers in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set both aside to soften.

In a medium saucepan, bring 1-1/2 quarts of good chicken stock to a boil. Add in 4 oz. of soba noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving the broth, and rinse noodles to stop cooking. Set aside. Place broth back in pan over a low flame. Place a length of paper towel or cheesecloth in a wire strainer and place over a measuring cup. Drain the porcini mushrooms through the paper lined strainer to remove and dirt or grit, reserving the mushroom broth in the cup. Add the mushrooms to the simmering broth. Check the mushroom stock for clarity, and add to pan with mushrooms.

When the chilies are soft and pliable, snip them with a scissors into the bowl of a food processor, and add several tablespoons of their soaking liquid. Process the peppers until they are well chopped, adding more soaking liquid if necessary. Strain the pepper mixture through a wire strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much chili puree as you can. Whisk 1-2 tablespoons of olive or sesame oil into the pepper puree.

Remove the tofu from the paper towels and brush with the fennel pollen/oil mixture, then heat a saute pan to nearly smoking. Carefully place tofu steaks in pan and sear for about 5-7 minutes or until nicely browned, then carefully turn over steaks and sear the other side for about 5 minutes. Place on fresh paper towel to drain and cool enough to cut into bite size pieces.

Place dulse seaweed in bottom of a deep soup bowl. Ladle the hot broth with mushrooms over the seaweed. Add the cooked soba noodles, cubed tofu, bean sprouts, cilantro and basil. Drizzle the soup with the chili puree and serve immediately. Season with more smoked sea salt, and pepper if desired.