Easy Fisherman's Stew

Easy Fisherman’s Stew

For the most part, summer in New England is hot and muggy, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune from the occasional cold and raw day. Right now, for example, I’m warm and dry inside of a Starbucks, but outside in New Hampshire it’s cold, windy, and raining sideways.

It’s not a day for outdoor summer fun, but it’s perfect soup weather.

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coconut curry chickpea soup spoon

Coconut Curry Chickpea Soup

Few things are better in the winter than a big bowl of hot soup (unless there’s a grilled cheese with the soup, which is better), and this easy Coconut Curry Chickpea Soup definitely fits the bill. The curry powder, coconut milk, lime juice, and brown sugar give it special flavor and sweetness, while the chunks of potatoes, zucchini, chickpeas, and fresh spinach add hearty heft.

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Quick and Easy Meatless Chili with MorningStar Farms Crumbles

It’s March in New Hampshire, which means I am both dying for spring, but also completely aware that it’s going to snow at least two more times before I see my first crocus, daffodil, or tulip. Thank heavens for chili — namely, my favorite meatless vegetarian chili with Morningstar Farms Crumbles.

Chunky and just spicy enough, this recipe makes enough for a meal and then several days of leftovers.

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Easy Homemade Minestrone Soup

Summer just came and went, didn’t it? One minute I was breathing in the ocean air at Rye with my family and escaping the heat at a beer garden with my girlfriends in Brooklyn, and the next, I’m using the entire length of my arm to wipe the fallen leaves off my car in the morning and choosing this year’s pumpkin carving design.

My first foliage season away from Boston has been, in a word, glorious. My ride to work takes me by a pasture with grazing cows, now framed with color, and the postcard-perfect church next door to Yankee HQ has a beauty of a tree next to it. I love the fall — the rich colors, spicy smells, and the return to knee socks and soft sweaters. The holidays are coming up. The soup kettle is ready. Let’s do this!

I’ve already been making lots of soups and stews now that the evenings have turned cold (if not downright freezing) and this easy homemade minestrone soup is always an early favorite.

Convenience comes in the form of canned beans, seasoned tomatoes, and veggie broth, while garlic, onion, pepper, and baby spinach still give you plenty of fresh ingredients to work with. Italian herbs (fresh or dried) lend robust flavor, and a generous handful of Parmesan brings it all home.

It’s everything you want in a soup — hearty, filling, and packed with flavor. Of course, I also insist on a hunk of bread or a toasted English muffin or bagel on the side. Who wouldn’t?

Feel free to halve the recipe, but I like making a big batch so I can freeze several servings for later.

Happy fall and happy soup weather!

Easy Homemade Minestrone Soup
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Ingredients
2 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet yellow pepper, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes with Italian herbs
1 14- to 15-oz. can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1 14- to 15-oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 tsps. Italian seasoning
2 cups dry pasta (rigatoni, penne, or shells)
3-4 cups baby spinach
Shaved Parmesan for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent.
  2. Add the tomatoes, beans, broth, water, seasoning, and pasta. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, then cook, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until pasta is barely tender. Add more water if necessary.
  3. Stir in spinach, then ladle into bowls and top with fresh grated Parmesan.

Yield: 8 servings.

Click to view and print the recipe for Easy Homemade Minestrone Soup.

French Onion Soup

Three French Hens French Onion Soup

What could be cozier while watching a holiday movie, playing Scrabble by the fire, or after coming in from sledding than a steaming crock of soup?

Besides a pair of fleecy sweatpants, not much else.

I should tell you that I love onions.  I love them a LOT.  They make a world a tastier, more fragrant place.

Unfortunately, the delicious soup dedicated to my favorite vegetable is often made with beef stock, meaning I can look and smell, but not taste.  The solution was clearly just to make my own.  And keep it healthier by omitting the traditional enormous baguette crouton smothered in melted gruyère (delicious as it is).

When I realized how easy it was to make this soup, I kicked myself for not trying it earlier.

First, place a mess of thinly-sliced onions in a stockpot, along with 2 tbsp. of oil.  Make sure to get your reflection in the teapot.

Move the teapot and sautee, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until soft and translucent, but not browned.  Add sugar, garlic, salt, and pepper and keep sauteeing.

After another 20 – 30 minutes the onions are a lovely golden brown in color and taste very sweet.  At this point you can continue to sautee them to deepen the flavor, or add the broth.  Just don’t let the onions burn!

Add 2 quarts of vegetable broth, and bring to a boil.  Then reduce heat and simmer for another 15 minutes.

I added a pinch of grated swiss to my bowl in homage to the gruyère. 

All of my dishes this month will have their photo taken with something that comes out only at Christmas.

Today’s featured Christmas item is an ornament – a wooden heart with a hand-painted poinsettia.  It was given to me in 1996 by my oldest and dearest friend Lauren and her family to commemorate an annual summer weekend in Ogunquit, Maine.  I spent the majority of my most awkward years with Lauren and her parents, but I never felt awkward with them.  They made me a member of their family, always supported and encouraged me to go for whatever my heart was calling for.  I don’t get to visit with them nearly as much as I want to …but there are many ornaments from them on my tree to help remind me of how awesome they are, and there always will be. 

And finally, in honor of Ogunquit and the great state of Maine in general, here is your Cup of Cheer.

Image from Kportimages via Flickr.  Click on the image to see more great Kennebunkport, Maine holiday images!

I have never seen a Christmas tree of lobster traps in real life, but it’s on my list.

Hope you have a fun and festive weekend!

Click for the full recipe!

Black Bean and Portobello Mushroom Soup

The weather last week was decidedly cooler (and wetter), so I turned to my favorite Spicy Black Bean soup recipe to warm things up – only this time I also added mushrooms.  As a non-meat eater, I am in love with beans and mushrooms for their ability to thicken soups with rich flavor and texture.  By pureeing most of the soup and then adding more beans, you get the best of both worlds…a creamy, earthy base with something to chew on.

Black Bean and Portobello Mushroom Soup

Ingredients
1 large or 2 small onions, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable broth
2 large cans black beans (29 oz. each)
2 large portobello mushroom caps
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. chili powder

  • In a large pot add the broth, onion, pepper, celery, and mushrooms.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add half of the beans (or 1 can) and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Puree the soup in a blender, food processor, etc. in batches or all at once if you can fit it.
  • Return pureed soup to pot and add the rest of the beans and the seasonings.
  • Allow to simmer for at least another 15 – 20 minutes, but we all know soup tastes better the longer it simmers and sits, so wait as long as you can!

Soups are very forgiving so you can tweak the ingredients to suit your taste.  I suggest enjoying a hot bowl with a pepper jack grilled cheese or seasonally-whimsical english muffin pizza (like I did with the help of a ghost cookie cutter). 

I also suggest wearing your pajamas and eating candy corn for dessert.

This past weekend I managed to make 2 big check-marks on my Autumn List…the Keene Pumpkin Festival and apple picking.  More on those soon, but I would love some suggestions for what to do with my apple supply.  Galette?  Crisp?  Muffins?  Sauce? 

Help!

Slow Cookers

The Crock-Pot came along just in time for the growing number of working, modern 70’s women that were trying to have it all…or at least juggle it all.  

While wearing enormous glasses. 

Rival (makers of the official Crock-Pot) introduced their electronic slow cooker in 1971.  “Crock-Pot” quickly became a term for all the brands of slow cookers that followed soon after.  The slow cooker is essentially a lidded countertop kitchen appliance…consisting of a glazed ceramic or porcelain pot insert, surrounded by a layer of electronically heated coils that slowly cook the contents over a duration of several hours.  The liquid in the recipe carries the heat from the walls of the pot to the interior, and the lid creates an airtight seal, trapping in steam to keep the temperature hot.  Within 10 years Crock-Pot sales were topping $30 million, and the majority of bridal registries became one item longer.

This summer has been exceptionally hot and humid, but today was overcast and drizzly.  That, coupled with an unwelcome and annoying summer cold, was all the inspiration I needed to drag out the Crock-Pot and start chopping.  As a veggie, I am unable to enjoy the slow cooker’s alleged shining masterpieces…the beef stews, pot roasts, kielbasas, swedish meatballs, etc…but I can enjoy a spicy veggie chili.

With most slow cooker recipes uncooked ingredients are tossed in, a switch is flipped, and the chef walks away…perhaps to sit on the sofa with a box of tissues and a Criminal Minds marathon on A&E.  My chili ingredients were red and green bell peppers, sweet onion, garlic, diced tomatoes, diced green chiles, kidney beans, black beans, frozen fake chicken strips, and a shortcut packet of chili seasoning.  This is helpful when you can’t remember what you’ve got in your spice rack while you’re at the store.  These kinds of recipes are all “season to taste”, and you can use as much or as little of whatever you’ve got on hand.  You’ll just need to have a good liquid-to-solid ratio.  I basically just add water at the end until most of my ingredients are submerged.  Slow cookers don’t reduce down like pots simmering on a stove would.

I love onions.

Beautiful bell peppers.

Slow cooker liners are ugly – but they are gifts from heaven.  Cleaning up is as easy as emptying the trash.  If the trash can was little like a Crock-Pot.

This was about 4 hours later.  It will taste even better when it’s been in the fridge overnight and the flavors have had a chance to really mingle.

Despite the fact that the slow cooker is designed to be plugged in and left on all day (“Fix it and forget it!”), I have some serious anxiety about leaving anything plugged in while I am not at home.  This worry has kept me from truly enjoying slow cooker ownership, but since my model is secondhand and I have learned that many new models are programmable and switch to an auto “warming” feature once the meal has cooked the amount of time you set ahead, I may have to make the investment, grit my teeth, and trust that the house won’t burn down.

I am thinking that my clenched jaw will soften to an “ahhh” when I walk into my apartment and I am greeted by the aroma of a completed and ready-to-eat supper.  Stay tuned.