Minestrone

Today it is cold outside.  And foggy.  And dreary.  While I am anxious for the spring-like weather to finally appear (and stay), I am grateful for these last few times I will be able to make a big pot of soup before the warmer weather comes and it’s too hot to eat soup.  For lunch today, I had a bowl of Minestrone.  This one of my favorite soups, second only to a simple cream of tomato.  I may like this soup as much as I do because it is tomato based, not broth-based like many of the recipes I’ve tried.  A bonus for me with this recipe is that I could also hand my son a bowl and let him go to town.  Most of the soup wound up on the floor, but he was especially intrigued by the noodles.  And I was thrilled to have finally found some alphabet noodles!

What I love about this soup is that I don’t know if I have ever tasted the same bowl in front of me.  My mother made it differently than my Nonnie who made it differently from her sister-in-law.  In Italy, if you were to ever see the word “minestrone” on a menu based on the etymology of the word, you would expect to see a hearty stew.  It is argued that the minestrone was created from the need to use up leftovers, while others believe that it was based on what was local and in season.  Typically speaking, I have a base recipe and then add or omit ingredients based on what I have on hand or what looks good to me at the time.  Because I use so many beans in my recipe, it is the perfect vegetarian soup to feed my husband.  And if he doesn’t make a comment about the absence of meat, I am in business!

My Minestrone:

– 4 cups tomato juice

– 2 cups water

– 2 cups beef broth (or vegetable broth)

– 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans

– 2 cups frozen, french-cut green beans

– 1 cup small pasta ( I used alphabet pasta, but if you were to use say, an elbow noodle you’d want more)

– 1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans

– 3 stalks of celery, sliced

– 2 carrots, sliced into rounds

– 1 small onion, diced

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– salt and pepper to taste

The first thing is to find a stockpot that will comfortably fit 2 quarts of liquid, plus all the veggies.  I put in all the liquids and the fresh veggies that will take the longest to cook and the spices.  Bring the pot to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.  Then reduce to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender.  Add in the pasta and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.  Add in all the beans, warm through and serve with a nice, crusty bread.

To spin a yarn

I know that today is one of our favorite holidays.  Saint Patrick’s day is the one day a year that I make Irish Soda bread and Matt drinks Guinness.  As usual, we had a dinner over at our friend’s house; it was an early evening for us as Liam made it clear when his bedtime hit.  It was a nice holiday.  Today was also laundry day.  In light of that, I have this lovely little post about my green and frugal laundry methods.

I’ve tried everything for our laundry.  I’ve done the all natural laundry detergents, the homemade soap and a very brief attempt at hand washing.  In the end, a friend of mine suggested Soap Nuts.  At first, I thought it was silly.  I couldn’t even say the name without giggling.  I tried a sample and was hooked.  My clothes actually smell clean and I must say that the diapers are in wonderful shape still!  I recently placed a full order and it’s super exciting to just toss the little bag of nuts in my washer and know that I’m not wasting anything.  

Then, we had the issue of the dryer sheets.  With cloth diapers, you can’t use anything extra, so I would get them out of the dryer and they would be in one giant blob from the static.  Even with dryer sheets, our clothes were coming out a disaster laced with electric static.  I overheard a friend talking about her dryer balls and how great they were, so I set out to find out about this wonder.  2 weeks later I was the proud owner of 10 wool dryer balls.  Making them is the easiest thing in the world, so easy that I had to keep checking the directions and even wound up calling my friend to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.  I hadn’t, it’s just that easy.

One evening while watching Bones, I sat with my skeen of yarn and started winding it up into a ball roughly golf ball size.  I had a large skeen of yarn (you can only use 100% wool yarn and mine specifically said it was for felting… which is the ultimate end to the yarn) and from it, I made 10 balls.  Then, the next day, I put all the balls into a knee sock and tied the top closed with a small piece of yarn.  I tossed them into the wash with the rest of my laundry.  When the load was done, I took the whole sock and threw it in the dryer, also with the laundry.  For each load of laundry that I did that day, I just kept taking the sock back and forth with the laundry between the washer and the dryer.  At the end of the day, I had stacks of clean laundry and 10 tightly felted balls.  

As the day progressed and I kept washing and drying the balls, I realized that the static cling in my clothes was getting less and less with each load.  Today, I did 4 loads of laundry, one of which was diapers with no static.  I love these things!  You can add a fragrance to the yarn as you are winding it, but I chose not to.  You  can use any color yarn you’d like as well.  I’m boring so I have heather gray dryer balls, but still work as well as a pretty one!  Bonus: they serve as great entertainment for Liam while I’m working!

Homemade Ghee

Another thing to check off my list!  I must tell you that the price difference alone was enough to make me want to try homemade ghee.  A year or so ago, I bought the jar on the right for 12 dollars.  I made the jar on the left for $2.17.  Organic butter doesn’t often go on sale, but when it does, I snap it up!   I cut the butter into small pieces and melted it over a low temperature in a small saucepan.  Once the butter was a liquid, it started to spatter.  I stirred it from time to time to keep it from actually burning, but it spit butter fat all over my stove for about 10 minutes.  Then, the bubbling slowed down until it was nothing and I could see the solids begin to form.  (Alas, I have no photos of this because I was also cooking dinner and making baby food at the same time.)  At this point, I believe that the butter became what you would call “browned”, and it had a wonderful aroma.  I let the butter simmer for another 10 minutes before removing it from the heat.  Once it was relatively cool, I covered my jar with a cheesecloth folded over many times and then slowly poured the butter in.  The solids were thereby strained out and I had a jar of golden, clarified butter.  I left it on the counter to cool completely.  Once it was room temperature, I transferred it to the fridge where it will keep for the next 6 months.  One pound of butter will give you about 1 1/2 cups ghee.  I made Indian food fairly regularly and honestly feel that it tastes better when cooked with ghee.  I’m saving a lot of money making my own, so perhaps I should put that money into a fund for another trip to India!

Resources: Fat by Jennifer McLagan

The Purposeful Pantry (Part 3 in the Dinner Series)

Last weekend I went to the Planktown market with my friend Emily to stock up and to get a feel for what was available.  I grew up in a house where buying in bulk was a monthly trip to Ashland for the food co-op.  I had been talking to other people in my area and tossing around the idea of getting together a group of us to do the co-op run together.  However, there is now a 10% processing fee in addition to the warehouse pricing on all items, a fee to purchase the catalog and a half hour drive.  I was beginning to see the impracticality of the decision.  So the hunt began to find an alternative.  Lucky for me, I have a like-minded friend!

Turns out, I can order most of the bulk items I use such as oats, for instance in quantities of up to 50 pounds.  The market is Amish run and has pretty much anything I will ever need.  So I set about stocking my pantry.  In order to have a fully functioning pantry I feel that there are a number of items you should have on hand at all times.  This way, no matter the mood when dinner time arises, you aren’t having to run to the store. 

My pantry consists of several Lance jars filled with:

  • flour
  • sugar
  • oats
  • rice
  • potato flakes
  • buckwheat flour
  • rye flour
  • brown sugar

Always on hand are dried pastas (I’m still working on the fresh pasta), beans, canned tomatoes and plenty of potatoes.  I keep a close eye on my baking supplies as well.  I buy yeast, baking powder and cornstarch in bulk and keep them in glass jars.  I still buy my baking chocolate in Walnut Creek, so I have to watch that because an hour drive for chocolate isn’t always possible.  And I’d hate to run out!

Finally, I always have at least one can each of red beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, tomatoes and corn.  This way, I have something to make a meal with… even if I’m buried in snow.