Stone Soup: The Basics of Making Soups

– johanna | November 30th, 2008

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Soup / Salad

My sister recently sent an email with a recipe she created using ingredients from her pantry. It just so happened “stone soup” was on our menu that night. So, it got me thinking about how easy it is to whip up a simple, good for you, quick pot of soup.

Mason and I read the book Stone Soup last week at school. The premise of the book is a weary traveler stopped at the home of an old woman asking her for food. She snobbishly turned him away telling him she did not have any food in the house or garden. Before she could close the door he asked her for a stone from her yard. Confused she questioned him why would he want a stone. He told her to make stone soup. Intrigued the old woman obliged him with a pot and as the story goes on she offered him the vegetables needed to make the soup fit for a king. Like the stone soup in the story every soup starts with a base of water with vegetables or meat for flavoring.

Stock can be made up of chicken, vegetable or beef broths. It can be creamy, with flour or cream. A tomato base comprised of bits of tomato or tomato puree. Soups may also be thick or thin. The flavoring comes from a variety of herbs, seasonings, vegetables and fats from meat or butter.

* A general guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is to use 3 times as much as you would use of a dried herb. 1/4 teaspoon of a dried herb for a recipe that serves 4.

Allison’s Pantry Taco Style Soup:
Canned Goods- kidney beans, corn, carrots, french cut green beans, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes.
Add to browned meat with garlic and onions. Add taco seasoning and top with sour cream and cheese.

This is my clean out the refrigerator and pantry version of Minestrone Soup:
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup bell pepper
1 cup Brussels sprouts, halved
1 carrot, sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 oz Italian sausage or panchetta
1 cup onions
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 tbsp fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
5 cups broth, beef or chicken
2 cans diced tomatoes, puree one or both cans
1 can garbanzo beans

Heat oil in a pot; add peppers, brussels sprouts, celery and carrots. Let brown slightly then remove. Add sausage onions and garlic. Cook until sausage is no longer pink. Add the parsley and basil. Toss.
Add broth, salt, pepper and tomatoes. Simmer 30-45 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add the garbanzo beans. Simmer 5 minutes. To serve, top with Parmesan cheese.

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Bacon, Apple & Cheddar Breakfast Panini

– johanna | November 29th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Breakfast

One day I received a Williams Sonoma catalog in the mail. I love the recipes included in the catalog as much as I enjoy looking at the great kitchen gadgets. One recipe I pulled out was for a steak and egg panini. The recipe lay dormant in my cookbook cabinet because I did not have a panini press. Then one day at the blessed Costco I saw one for $40 and decided to treat myself to an early birthday present. Obsessed with pressed sandwiches, I went in search of recipes and found Panini Happy, an absolutely fabulous website filled with yummy recipes. This happens to be one of the kids favorites.

2 cinnamon raisin English muffins, split in half lengthwise
8 apple slices (I recommend Granny Smith or other firm variety)
4 slices thick cut bacon, precooked
2 slices sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat panini grill to medium-high heat (375 degrees).
Arrange a layer of apple slices inside the bottom halves of the English muffin. Top with 2 slices of bacon and 1 slice of cheese on each and close the panini with the top muffin halves. Grill for 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately and enjoy!

You can also bake these in a toaster oven at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes.

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Happy Thanksgiving Kid Style

– johanna | November 29th, 2008


Thanksgiving is over and I feel like a stuffed turkey. I fasted all day so I could enjoy a few extra calories at dinner time and not feel too guilty. My guilty pleasure was my Grandmother’s blue cheese ball. I nearly devoured half of it single-handedly.

This Thanksgiving was my first. In the past we always went to Stephen’s parents or sister’s houses. This year, with everyone out of state, we wanted a nice relaxing kid friendly Thanksgiving. The meal was simple. I know it is Thanksgiving dinner we are talking about here but I could not bring myself to whip up numerous carb loaded dishes. Besides with four adults and three little children we did not need that much. We stuck to the basics of turkey, stuffing, corn on the cob roasted vegetables and salad.

Here are a few things Mason and Adelin did to help with the decorations.

Fall Harvest Necklaces: Use string or plain dental floss,  popcorn, a variety of dried fruits.

Thanksgiving placemats: A fun way to teach patterns and weaving.

Thanksgiving hats. The instructions for the Pilgrim Bonnet can be found here.

The centerpiece: The Mayflower

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Pumpkin Pie Bars

– johanna | November 28th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

Joy the Baker is at it again with these delicious Pumpkin Pie Bars she adapted from Kraft.

1-1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) cold butter or margarine
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats, uncooked
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)
a handful of butterscotch or chocolate chips for sprinkling on top (optional)

HEAT oven to 350°F. Line 13×9-inch pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides; grease foil. Mix flour, 1/4 granulated sugar and brown sugar in medium bowl; cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in oats and nuts.
RESERVE 1 cup oat mixture; press remaining onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake 15 min. Beat cream cheese, remaining sugar, eggs, vanilla, bourbon, pumpkin and spice with mixer until well blended. Pour over crust; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture and a handful of butterscotch or chocolate chips (if desired).
BAKE 25 min.; cool 10 min. Use foil to transfer dessert from pan to wire rack; cool completely.

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Banana and Cream Cheese Crepes

– johanna | November 27th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Breakfast

I admit I have an addiction to breakfast foods. These banana and cream cheese crepes do not help. I do not know where it came from as I have had this recipe for years. A crepe pan is not necessary when making crepes. A small fry pan works just as well, if not better. I learned to make crepes from Mr. King, a “Rock Scientist”. We just ate them with butter and syrup. Crepes can be stuffed with jams, vegetables or fruits. The toppings are just as endless.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup milk
4 eggs
2 tbsp butter or margarine, melted

1 orange- 1 tbsp zest, 3 tbsp juice
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 bananas
Chocolate Sauce

Combine flour and salt. Add milk, eggs and butter, whisking until smooth. Heat pan over medium heat until hot. Pour 1/4 cup batter into pan. Immediately tilt pan so uncooked portions flow to open areas of pan. Cook about 30 seconds or until lightly browned. Loosen edge of crepe; turn. Beat cream cheese and zest. Beat whipping cream and powdered sugar until stiff. Fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture. Cut bananas in half crosswise; cut each half lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Toss bananas in orange juice. For each crepe, place about 1/3 cup banana mixture in center of crepe. Top with 1/4 cup cream cheese mixture; fold sides over cream cheese mixture. Drizzle with chocolate-flavored syrup.

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Fiesta Flavored Couscous Salad

– johanna | November 26th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides

The first time I had couscous was when I was in Texas. I knew a guy who was from Tahiti. One night he made couscous in a pot with cabbage and whole tomatoes. Ever since that night couscous has become a pantry staple. I gravitated toward this dish because this summer I had a major affair with limes and spices like cumin and red chili peppers and cilantro. I put cilantro on everything. And why not, the flea market was selling ten bunches for a dollar. Add some chicken or black beans to complete the meal.

Couscous is small, granular pasta that is steamed like rice. Almost any rice or pasta dish could be substituted for couscous.

1 cup uncooked couscous
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp ground cumin
8 green onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, drained
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a 2 quart or larger sauce pan and stir in the couscous. Cover the pot and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, vinegar and cumin. Add green onions, red pepper, cilantro, corn and beans and toss to coat.
Fluff the couscous well, breaking up any chunks. Add to the bowl with the vegetables and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve at once or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Source: allrecipes

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30-Day Meal Plan: Planning and Shopping for the Month Saves Time and Money

– johanna | November 26th, 2008


Make it Simple:
The idea of once a month cooking is to simplify life. If a month sounds too overwhelming start small. Try once a week cooking, gradually adding more meals as you become acclimated. Trouble finding the time? Hire a baby sitter, cook in smaller amounts during the day, double favorite recipes and freeze the excess, cook with a friend.

Meal Planning:
A few days before the beginning of the month begin assembling a menu for the month. I am a list person. On my menu I like to write down the name of the recipe, where to find the recipe (including the page number if it is in a book). My sister Allison uses recipe cards she pulls out and keeps together for reference. Choose 6-14 recipes. This number is based on the probability of eating a particular dish several times throughout the month. My sister-n-law Natalie has three monthly menus she rotates. She gets the kids involved in planning the menu by having them choose a few of their favorite recipes. Or designate one day out of the week to each child and let them come up with the menu for that day.

Now that the menu is in order it is time to compile a shopping list. Go through each recipe to determine how much of each ingredient is needed. Factor in how many times a particular recipe will be used that month. (If using a OMC recipe the amount should already be calculated for 4-6 meals) Other products to include on the list may include freezer bags-gallon and quart, freezer wrap, aluminum foil and aluminum baking pans (optional).

Grocery Shopping:
Utilize the weekly sales flyer to plan meals around sale items for maximum savings. To get the most for your money shop around for the best deals and consider buying in bulk from a warehouse. Warehouses tend to have the best deals on spices, meats, dairy and bread. Use store circulars to compare prices on fruits and vegetables.

Plan to go shopping on a day when you will not be rushed. Hire a babysitter or trade babysitting with a friend. Give your self time to frequent several stores to get the best prices.

Once the food is home take care of your purchases. My sister uses shopping day to separate and bag the raw meat by quantity per recipe or sauce. She freezes chicken or beef in marinades to be used in simple dishes. She does not cook anything on shopping day. Some once a month veterans shop and cook on the same day.

Cooking Day:
At home divide the meat for each meal into bags. Add a sauce or marinade if needed to the bag. My sister puts the rest of the groceries away then goes through the recipe cards and organizes them by meat or sauce- chicken, beef and tomato. Then she picks the meals she wants to make that week. Instead of making every meal at once she prepares according to what is on the menu that night. If it is a tomato sauce night, she doubles the recipe to make sauce for general purposes and then makes other tomato based dishes to freeze. When beef or chicken is on the menu she checks her recipe cards for other meals that have the same basic flavoring and doubles the meat to assemble the other recipes. Add garlic and onion to beef for an Italian flavor. Add chili power the next night for tacos and an egg with oatmeal for meatloaf the following night. Double each meal then freeze.

Freeze your Meals:
Once your meals are cool, find a place for them in them in the freezer. Label all meals with the name of the meal, cooking instructions and the date it was frozen.

Freezer Bags – The bags spread out flat and they stack up nicely on top of each other taking less space. Pour cooled liquid such as soups and sauces into freezer bags and lay flat on a shelf in the freezer. For casseroles, freeze in the pan then pop out and store in a freezer bag. Remember to remove as much air as possible from the bag to prevent freezer burn.

Foil Pans or Freezer Containers – For casseroles such as lasagna or enchiladas, put a layer of plastic wrap on top of the food then cover with foil. Make sure that you use enough wrap to cover over the entire top of the dish.

Vacuum Sealer – These are great because they help to protect your food from freezer burn allowing the food to stay really fresh tasting. Never seal liquids unless they have been frozen first. Same goes for raw meat. The suction can cause the juices to enter the sealer and damage the unit.

Recipe Links:

Cooking Tips:
– Do not freeze pasta in sauces or soup. It turns mushy (I learned that the hard way). Grains such as barley may be added after the soup cools. Use fresh beans cooked until slightly tender. Canned and over cooked beans turn to mush in the freezer.

– I have tried freezing raw potatoes, not a good idea. They do say however mashed potatoes are fine to freeze.

– I read once it was not a good idea to free meals with cream of soup in them but every recipe labeled OMC pretty much has some cream of soup in it. I am guessing it must be ok.

– Use marinades for raw meat.

– Cooked meat has a shorter life span in the freezer than raw.
Never refreeze meat. That includes cooked meat that was once frozen.

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Mom’s Coconut Cake

– johanna | November 25th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

My mom’s coconut cake was probably my favorite part of Thanksgiving. My dad’s birthday is November 24th. It became a tradition to celebrate his birthday on Thanksgiving Day with a coconut cake.

1 white cake mix
1 1/4 cups light Karo syrup
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
1 box cook/serve vanilla pudding
1 pkg Coconut

Bake cake in two round cake pans according to box directions. Cool.

Cook pudding according to box directions. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to gently press wrap flat against pudding. Chill 3-4 hours. Mix a couple cups of coconut into cooled pudding.

Cut cake rounds in half lengthwise to make 4 cake rounds. Place one round on a plate. Spread coconut pudding over layer. Top with next cake round and pudding, repeat with third round. Top with 4th cake round. Place cake in the fridge.

Heat syrup on medium heat until a film begins to form (should have small steam bubbles). Beat egg whites one at a time on high speed until fluffy and stiff. (should not move when bowl is turned upside down). Pour syrup into the egg whites a little at a time, beating until thick. Add vanilla.

Frost cake with meringue mixture. Sprinkle with coconut. Keep refrigerated.

Dot with Maraschino cherries for added color.

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Mom’s Pumpkin Pie

– johanna | November 24th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

This is my moms pumpkin pie recipe. It is from the Libby pumpkin can. On Rare occasions I find a recipe from a box or can that is actually quite delicious. I have had many comments on how good it is and if they can have the recipe. I am a failure at pastry dough and therefore I buy my own.  But one day I plan on diving in and conquering pie dough.

1 1/2 c sugar
1 can (29oz) pumpkin
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cans (12oz) evaporated milk
1 tsp ginger
2 unbaked 9-inch deep dish pie shells
1/2 tsp cloves
4 large eggs

Mix sugar, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a small bowl. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shells. Bake in a preheated 425°oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temp to 350°. Bake 40-50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on rack.

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Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Pie

– johanna | November 24th, 2008

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

I got my pumpkin fix. Now it is time move on. I have heard of sweet potato pie but never a squash pie. I thought it would be a nice change to our Thanksgiving dinner this year.

From Pittsburgh Needs Eated adapted from David Lebovitz’s Room for Dessert

Makes one 10-inch pie
2 pounds butternut squash (for about 2 cups pulp)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp brandy
one 10-inch pre-baked pie crust

Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and rub generously with butter.

Slice the squash in half lengthwise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and fibers from the cavity. Place the halves cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, until tender and fully cooked.

While the squash is baking, mix together the cream, milk, eggs, sugar, spices, salt, vanilla, and brandy.

When the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven and turn the oven down to 375F. Scoop out the squash pulp and add to the other ingredients. Mix until smooth in a food processor or blender.

Pour the warm filling into the pre-baked pie shell and bake for 30-35 minutes, until just barely set in the center.

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