Friday, April 8, 2011

Bye Bye Winter, Hello Spring!

This week we are officially, at least in our home, saying goodbye to winter; we are sick of cold weather and ready for a new season. I've decided to start a new tradition for our family.

Recently, while surveying our cupboards and panty, I noticed that I had a lot of leftover beans, lentils, frozen veggies, tomatoes, and other foods that could be used to make a lovely soup - the last soup of the winter, so to speak. I love making, and eating, soups in the winter, but I don't enjoy them as much in the spring and summer. I thought that by starting this tradition, we could usher in the new season by using up all those leftover canned goods, and frozen items that accumulated throughout the winter, and to make room for all the spring and summer goodies that come only with warmer weather!

So, while doing inventory, I came up with a recipe for a beef minestrone soup. The following is the recipe for the soup I created using ingredients I found in my kitchen. On the flipside, I follow the weight watchers PointsPlus program and have included the PointsPlus (insert trademark here!) value for a serving. I should note, for legal purposes, this soup is not endorsed in any way by Weight Watchers or any of it's entities. Now that I have that out of the way, here is the recipe:

Elizabeth's Beef Minestrone Soup

1 large can of crushed tomatoes

1 can of green beans

1 can chick peas

1 can lentils

1 frozen container (about a cup and a half) of peas and carrots

1 lb ground beef

4 beef broth cubes

2 cups water

2 cloves garlic

2 onions (I used one small spanish, and one large vidalia)

1 teaspoon of Olive Oil

2 cups cooked macaroni (or other small pasta)

NOTE: If you do not have these specific ingredients, its ok to be creative. Really, any bean will do! If you have kidney beans, use them! If you have black beans, or cannelli beans, use them too!! (Soup without Macaroni is 3 PointsPlus per 1 1/4 cup servings. Soup with macaroni is 4 PointsPlus per 1 1/4 cup servings.)

Prep: Spray a non-stick pan with cooking spray. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Dice onions, and pulverize garlic. Place onions and garlic in pan and saute on medium/low heat until just before translucent. While the onions saute, boil 2 cups of water. Add beef bouillion cubes. Dissolve and stir.

Strain and rinse all beans and veggies. Place in crock. Open can of tomatoes and add to crock. Add beef to crock. Add broth to onion mixture on stove. Stir. Add onion and broth mixture to crock and stir. Cook on high 4-6 hours. Season to taste. I added freshly ground garlic salt and pepper. If you want to add macaroni, simply cook macaroni al dente, and add to soup before serving. The prep on this recipe takes about 10 minutes.

Can be served with the following recipe for fresh, country white bread. I like to toast this bread and smoother in fresh, local honey. But the bread goes with EVERYTHING and once you make it once, you will never use another white bread recipe again!

White Bread Recipe

2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C) '

2/3 cup white sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

6 cups bread flour

Directions: In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, and then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a well oiled bowl, and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves, and place into two well oiled 9x5 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes.

Enjoy and Happy Spring!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Happy Easter!

As a child, we had the most wonderful holidays. This was mostly due to the hard work and creativity of my parents. Easter was one of those special holidays where it was always less about the presents and more about being a family, enjoying spring (even on those rare snowy ones) and dressing in our best Easter outfits. When I think back I can recall several special Easter's where my memories are so clear it's as if it was yesterday. I remember Mom making us the best and prettiest dresses, and going to spend time at Grandma's where we would look for Easter eggs and just have good old fashioned fun. But, it was not always easy for my parents to make holidays happen without us knowing that our family may have had less in the way of finances and for what it's worth, we never really knew until later in life how our parents struggled.

My mother would work extra jobs to buy us nice things and my Dad would spend his weekends, literally, in the swamps, trimming down pussywillow bushes and hauling them back to the minivan, to later trim, bundle, and sell to a dealer at the Broadway Market. On Easter Sunday, our traditional and often times antique or handmade baskets, were filled to the brim with the best chocolates from local confectioners. We would race downstairs to seek out our baskets that the "bunny" had hidden about the house and he always found clever places to hide them. One year, after searching all about and feeling quite defeated as my siblings had already found their baskets, my big brother pointed one small finger up to the ceiling. There it was, my basket was hanging from an old beam in our 100 year old house. I never noticed it, as my Mom had always displayed baskets from the beams.

Sadly, so much of this type of holiday fun is taken for granted by so many. But, not by me. I understand the sacrifices my parents made to ensure we had the best holidays and best memories of home and family. I consider myself very fortunate. I hope that by realizing these sacrifices and having such wonderful memories, I will be a better parent myself. I want my own children to have wonderful, special memories of their holidays as well as their every days.

This Christmas passed and, due to Michaels early arrival, I was barely able to make a dozen Christmas cookies. I excused myself from it this year, but next year will be different. This Easter Michael will have his own antique Easter basket, just like I had. He will have pictures taken with pussywillows, peeps, and his basket - of course dressed in his best Easter clothes. He won't remember this Easter, but I won't ever forget it. My little one is growing fast and it's these times that I want to remember most so I can tell him all about it as he gets older.

I think Easter is a great time to reflect and remember that being thankful doesn't just come at thanksgiving. It comes at all different times in our lives, and this Easter is definitely one for us.