Life is Good Minestrone Soup

Life is Good Minestrone Soup


Been dealing with the joys and complications of retirement.  There I was with a whole lotta free days and just as quickly they got filled with wonderful things like writing, cooking, babysitting, visiting with friends and alas, health problems. Two heart stents later, a second delightful grandson and new digs in a safe neighborhood stabilized me and now I’m happy, happy, happy. 

 So what do I do when I’m happy ?  COOK UP A STORM ! 

It’s been cold here in Alameda, California. We’ve had unprecedented freezing high 20 degree weather here. Okay, you Mid-Westerners, stop snickering…..

So what can I do but make SOUP!  Spelt soup, mushroom barley soup, kale and potato aka caldo verde, everything green soup,Thai chicken soup, to name just a few but my absolute favorite is MINESTRONE.  It’s easy and fail proof. You can pretty much put more or less of most ingredients in the recipe and you’ll end up with a rich, savory potage of green, red, orange, yellow veggies full of vitamins and minerals.

Make a big pot and if it seems too much, put some in the freezer for later. You’ll love yourself when you defrost and heat it up after being out all day.



Life is Good Minestrone Soup


¼ cup olive oil

½- l cup ( ½ inch thick) pancetta*- diced

1 large onion- chopped

4-5 medium carrots chopped

1 ½ cups chopped celery or fennel root or stalks

1-2  cups chopped bell pepper

1 cup white or red wine

 l large or 2 medium bay leaves

carrots,fennel,onions, bay leaves

carrots,fennel,onions, bay leaves

cabbage still life

cabbage still life

1 (1# 12 oz.) can of whole*** or diced tomatoes**

2 Tablsp. tomato paste**

5 cups chicken stock**

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried rosemary


1 bunch of cleaned swiss chard (approx. 2-3 cups)- chopped into l inch chunks

3 cups of cabbage- chopped into 1 inch chunks

2-3 zucchini – cut ½ inch thick

1 (15oz.) can of white beans

soups done !

soups done !

Optional: Any chunk of dried out parmesan cheese to add to stock or grated parmesan cheese to sprinkle over completed soup.

This will make about 10+ cups of soup so use a large stock pot that will hold about a gallon of soup.

Saute’ pancetta in oil over low heat for 3-4 minutes. 

  • Add  ingredients from onions through peppers and saute’ for 5 minutes.
  • Add wine and bay leaves. Toss together, cover and simmer for  5 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes with juices from can, paste, stock, basil and rosemary.
  • Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes
  • .
  • Add swiss chard, cabbage,zucchini and beans and bring to boil.
  • Simmer for 25-30 minutes until cabbage is soft and limp.
  • Taste and add as much salt as you like. 
  •  *You can substitute any salty bacon, prosciutto ends, leftover ham for this.

    ** Try to keep the proportion of tomato products and stock the same as recipe for balance but tweek it to your taste if you like.

     *** If you use whole canned tomatoes, squish them before you put them in the pot.

    I like to add dried mini- tortellini or dried mini- ravioli to the finished soup. After soup is done, bring to a boil again and add about 1-2 cups of dried pasta and boil until the pasta is al dente. Got this idea from the Silver Palate cookbook.


    Love life every day, stay warm and good health to you all!









    It’s spring!  Rhubarb and the first strawberries of the year are at the Farmer’s market!  So I’ve just GOT TO make a strawberry-rhubarb pie!  Which recipe will I use?  My own of course, but can I really call it my own creation after all it originated as a Rhubarb pie from a Martha Stewart recipe?   

    I was re-reading a post from Diane Jacob’s excellent and informative blog, Will Write for Food about the controversial issue of calling a recipe ones own. Most recipes aren’t ever truly original. Does adapting a recipe make it possible to lay claim to it?  Some people feel that if there are three ingredients/measurement changes and the recipe is not copied verbatim from the original then it’s fair game to claim it as their own. My changes included the addition of strawberries and a change from orange to Minneola tangerines. My measurements were more specific and the amount of flour, cardamom and type of juice and rind were changed to fit my taste. Other folks say to give acknowledgement to the originator. So with all this in mind I will state that my Strawberry Rhubarb pie is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Tartan Rhubarb Pie and leave it at that. You can check out her recipe and compare the changes I’ve made.  Now that we’re done with that,” Ladies and Gentlemen, FIRE UP your oven, GET OUT your rolling pin and START baking ! Cause this pie will get you out of your winter hibernation and jumpstart your Spring !! 




    Rosie’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

     Pie dough for 2-crust pie



    3 cups halved strawberries

    3 cups fresh rhubarb- cut into 1-inch pieces

    1-cup sugar

    grated rind of one Minneola Tangerine *( approx. 1 Tblsp.)

    ¼ cup FRESH tangerine juice

    ½ tsp. cardamom powder (freshly ground/pulverized the best)

    1/3-cup flour

     Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place a cookie pan in oven to heat up. **

     Combine strawberries with rhubarb.  Add sugar, tangerine rind, juice and , cardamom. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add flour to fruit mixture and toss until incorporated.  Let sit for 5 more minutes.

    Roll out bottom crust and lay this into the pie pan. Fill with fruit mixture.

    Roll out second pie dough and cut into 1-½ inch wide strips.  Lay half of the strips across the top of pie. Weave the remaining dough strips over and under the first strips. Roll the dough from strips and bottom crust together to form a rim. Crimp crust together and attach parts to pie pan.

     Brush the top piecrust with some milk or cream and sprinkle some coarse sugar or white sugar on top.

     Bake for 60-75 minutes until the juices are bubbling CLEAR red.

     *You can substitute any tangerine rind or juice

    ** Preheating the cookie sheet before placing the pie on top will insure that your bottom crust will be crispy.









    It’s a brand new year with an even tighter budget. Eeek! Since Larry and I are not into living a life of deprivation we decided to explore what we absolutely had to have besides our basic needs. Eating, cooking and entertaining were our top priorities. It’s not unusual for us to entertain friends over a home cooked meal at least three-four times a month. So how were we going to accomplish this within our budget? We decided to have two ways of entertaining. One would be to have simple suppers with a one dish entree. No frills such as dessert or appetizer, just a spontaneous invite to join us for our normal weekday meal.

    We also wanted to continue having themed based dinner parties serving a complete meal of appetizer,main course,side dish and dessert. We decided to set a budget of $20 for each dinner. How would we be able to accomplish this? Here’s what we came up with. First we would ask our guests to contribute to the meal by bringing a beverage of choice and an appetizer, salad or dessert. We would cook the main dish and whatever else needed. In addition we would limit the number of guests to a maximum of four.

    It would be a win-win situation for all of us. Our guest would be spending less than they would in a restaurant and they would also have the opportunity to learn how to make a new dish with the recipes I provided.

    I decided upon a Cuban menu this month since a bunch of us were going to a local club to learn a new (for us) kind of Cuban dance called Son. Here’s what we made.

    Cuban dinner for Six

    Appetizer:  Yucca fritas ( fried yucca) with mojo criolla sauce

    Yucca fritas
    2 large yucca roots
    1/4 cup cooking oil
    Cut yucca into 4 inch lengths. Leave peels on yucca. Steam them until knife cuts into them and they are soft ( not mushy) like potatoes. Cool and strip peels off. Cut into french fry size wedges. Fry in hot oil until brown on all sides and sprinkle with salt.

    Mojo Criolla sauce

    6-7 cloves garlic- crushed
    1 1/4 tsp. salt
    1/2 tsp. black pepper
    1 tsp. cumin powder
    1 Tablsp. white vinegar
    1/2 cup fresh orange juice
    1/4 cup fresh lime juice
    1/2 cup olive oil
    1/4 cup chopped cilantro
    Crush and pulverize garlic cloves with salt and pepper. Add cumin powder. Combine garlic mixture, vinegar, orange,lime juice and olive oil in blender and blend until frothy. Add chopped cilantro and adjust with more salt as needed.

    Salad: Orange avocado salad with lime cumin vinaigrette

    Orange avocado salad with lime cumin vinaigrette

    3 cups mixed salad greens
    1-avocado sliced or chunked
    3 oranges- peels cut off and cut into 1 inch chunks
    1/4-1/2 cup sliced red onions

    Toss ingredients above gently with vinaigrette.

    Lime cumin vinaigrette * from Deborah Madison- Vegetarian cooking for Everyone

    1 garlic clove
    grated rind of 2 limes
    3 Tablsp. lime juice
    2 Tablsp.chopped shallots
    1/2 jalapeno chili- seeded and minced
    1/2 tsp.cumin seeds
    1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
    1/4 tsp. dry mustard
    1/3 cup olive oil
    2 Tablsp. chopped cilantro
    Mash and pulverize garlic with salt. Combine with lime rind,juice, shallots and chili.
    Toast cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant. Cool and then grind into a fine powder. Add to lime mixture. Whisk in mustard and oil. Taste and adjust with more salt if needed. Let rest for 15 minutes and add cilantro just serving.

    Entree:  Arroz con pollo ( rice with chicken)

    Arroz con Pollo

    4 chicken thighs
    4 chicken breasts
    3 cloves garlic- minced
    1 1/2 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. black pepper
    1 tsp.dried oregano
    1 tsp. cumin powder
    1 tsp. coriander powder
    2 Tablsp. red wine vinegar

    2 Tablsp. olive oil
    2 cups onion- chopped
    4 cloves garlic- minced
    1 red bell pepper- -sliced
    3-4 ripe Roma tomatoes- chopped
    12 oz. of beer
    2 1/2 cups chicken stock
    2 cups short grain white rice
    3/4 cup of fresh or frozen peas
    Cut each chicken breast into 2 half pieces. Marinate the chicken breasts and thighs with the garlic, salt, pepper, oregano,cumin,coriander and red wine vinegar for 6-24 hours. Refrigerate.

    In a large oven proof pan, fry chicken pieces over medium high heat in oil until browned on all sides. They should not be cooked through. Set aside chicken when browned and saute the onion and garlic with the oil from fried chicken. Saute onions until soft and yellow. Add bell pepper slices and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook at medium flame until the tomatoes are soft and juices have been released. Add beer and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add rice and mix thoroughly. Turn off heat and place chicken pieces decoratively over rice. Place a foil over the pan and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Take foil off and sprinkle peas over rice and chicken and bake for 10 minutes longer.
    Rice will be soft and almost soupy. I like the rice to be soft and almost risotto like in texture. If you want it to be drier, bake it a bit longer uncovered.

    Dessert:  Fresh pineapple and mango sorbet

    Fresh pineapple slices with mango sorbet and guava halves*

    Cut pineapple into small wedges and serve with scoops of store bought mango sorbet.
    *If you are able to find fresh guava, include on plate.

    Total cost for arroz con pollo and fried yucca with mojo sauce and ingredients: $18
    It really amounted to less since I bought two whole chickens and was able to use the drumsticks and wings for another meal.

    There’s a renaissance of creativity erupting in this country. Out of necessity people are making all sorts of wonderful things from found items. In my quest to “Waste Not, Want Not” I’ve been making my ever changing mac n’cheese. I love the alchemy that takes place when I use leftover cheeses from my fridge to make this dish. Homely scraps, wedges and lumps of different cheeses go into a white sauce that’s mixed with penne macaroni and then covered with parmesan cheese. Baked until golden brown,the interior of this dish emerges loaded with toothsome pieces of pasta bathed in a complex sauce of many cheeses. It’s magical how all the flavors deliciously merge and meld into each other.  

    At different times I’ve used bits of brie, fontina, gorgonzola, manchego, cheddar, provolone, gruyere, parmesan, and asiago.It always turns out delicious. If I have some leftover bits of ham or prosciutto I’ll add them as well. Sometimes a mound of caramelized onions,handful of spinach or sun dried tomatoes get thrown in.The fun part of this dish is using whatever that’s available and experiencing something new each time. The only things I don’t change are the proportions for the white sauce and cheese. Using the Silver Palate recipe for Macaroni with Quattro Formaggi as a template I’ve been able to create my own take on their recipe by adding dijon mustard and different types of cheeses and ingredients. My latest creation had mostly provolone,some gorgonzola, asiago, and fontina cheese. I also threw in some strips of fried prosciutto, sun dried tomatoes and a handful of spinach leaves. I topped it with a mixture of parmesan and asiago cheese.Try this recipe and then try putting in your own combination of cheeses and ingredients to make your own Magical Mystical Mac N’Cheese. 

    Magical Mystical Mac N’Cheese

    1 lb. penne marcaroni
    5 Tablsp. butter
    1/4 cup flour
    2 1/2 cups milk
    1 tsp. nutmeg
    1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
    1 3/4 cups of assorted cheeeses ( provolone, gorgonzola,fontina, mozzarella, asiago)
    1/2 cup fried strips of prosciutto or ham
    1/2 cup strips of sun dried tomatoes
    handful of spinach leaves
    1 tsp. red pepper flakes
    1/2 tsp. black pepper
    1 tsp. of salt
    1/2 cup of parmesan and/or asiago cheeses

    Boil penne until al dente. Drain and set aside.
    In an oven proof pan or casserole dish make a white sauce by melting butter over medium heat until bubbling. Whisk in flour and continue to whisk for 1-2 minutes. Add milk and whisk over medium heat until it gets to a consistency of cream. Add nutmeg, dijon mustard,black and red pepper flakes. Add chopped up cheeses and continue to whisk until all is melted. Add prosciutto,sun dried tomatoes and spinach.Taste and adjust with salt as needed. Mix in penne and cover with parmesan/asiago cheeses. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees 



    A whole lotta mushrooms !Soup's on !A fully loaded bowl of soup Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a holiday that focuses on counting our blessings. I’m blessed with having abundance in my life. I have a large loving family consisting of a wonderful husband,a son,daughter,
    grandson,mother,five siblings with their children and grandchildren. Thanksgiving dinner with my family usually means having 30-35 family members taking up every conceivable seating space in the house. Everyone contributes to this meal and there’s always enough leftovers to take home. It’s a heart-filling sight to experience and I revel in this pleasure.

    Riding on this high and wanting to share the abundance of this dinner with my friends, I started a tradition years ago. I asked folks to bring over leftovers from their Thanksgiving dinner to share with each other. Over the years it morphed into a Day After Thanksgiving hike and supper.

    Every year we start with a leisurely walk to work off all the yummy food eaten the night before. Since we’re blessed with an abundance of forests, wetlands and seashore to choose from, it’s a different place each year. There’s lots of time to talk, laugh,bird watch and take in nature. Cheese, bread, sandwiches or whatever anyone wants to bring is shared on the trail.

    Afterwards we gather at my home for a supper consisting of whatever folks have brought and a turkey mushroom barley soup I’ve made from the leftover turkey carcass,stock, meat scraps and veggies. Someone starts up a fire while others set out the food that’s shown up. When the rich earthy aroma of the soup floods the kitchen I call out,”Soups on”. We gather together and someone makes a toast to the soup and our shared gratitude for the abundance in our lives. Life is good.

    Turkey mushroom barley soup

    Enriched turkey broth

    1 turkey carcass
    leftover turkey stock or chicken stock to cover carcass
    2 bay leaves
    1 medium onion-quartered
    2 carrots-cut into chunks
    2 stalks of celery- cut into rough chunks
    1 medium parsnip- cut into chunks
    2 Tablsp. butter
    1 medium onion-diced
    3 carrots- cut into 1/2 inch rounds
    2 stalks celery- cut into 1/2 inch pieces
    3 parsnips- cut into 1/2 inch rounds
    3/4 pound of cremini mushrooms- 1/2 inch pieces
    1 tsp. black pepper
    1 tsp. dried or fresh thyme
    1 cup barley*
    1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
    1 cup + leftover turkey meat
    Optional: 2-3 Tablsp.sherry
    1. Strip meat from turkey carcass. Cut into 1 inch pieces and
    set aside.
    2. Put carcass in large stock pot and cover with broth to almost
    cover turkey. Add bay leaves with chunked carrots,celery and
    parsnip. Wash and break stems off mushrooms and add to pot.
    Save the caps for later.
    3. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
    4. Strain turkey and vegetables and discard. Save the broth for soup.
    5. Cut mushroom caps into chunks, dice remaining onion, carrots,
    celery stalks and parsnip. Saute vegetables in butter until soft.
    Add thyme and black pepper.
    6. Add the turkey broth and bring to boil. Simmer for 25 minutes.
    7. Turn heat up to a gentle boil and slowly add barley. Stir and
    simmer soup for 30-40 minutes until the barley is soft. Add
    parsley and turkey meat. Taste and adjust with salt and more
    pepper as needed.
    8. Add sherry to taste and simmer for 5 minutes.

    * You can increase barley to 1 1/2 cups if you want the soup to be
    dense with barley.

    Yield: Approximately 30-(2 cup)servings

    Fall is officially here. The days are shorter with less sunlight but my tomatoes are still hanging on. In fact the Sun Gold and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes are STILL going strong and sweet. Of the four types of tomatoes I planted this year, only one type beside the cherry tomatoes produced really sweet tasty fruit. Those were my Marzanos which are still producing one to two-inch flavorful babies. The Romas were a disappointment. They were mild and somewhat mushy in texture.

    The plant itself is mondo healthy with massive bushy leaves surrounding prodigious amounts of fruit. I keep finding clusters of beautiful red ripe tomatoes amidst these leaves. I can’t stop hunting and picking them. I feel like a kid on an Easter egg hunt. So what can I do with these less than tasty beauties? I hate to waste what Mother Nature offers me plus I like getting boosts of lycopenes from the tomatoes into my body. I’m into doing everything possible to eat foods that will boost my immune system.

    So here’s a couple of remedies for helping bland tomatoes taste better. Like most of my non-baking recipes, measurements are somewhat flexible. If you add more tomatoes and less chicken stock you have a denser soup. Since these Romas were not very sweet I added a few ingredients to boost and adjust flavors. A sprinkling of sugar and a handful of squishy overripe cherry tomatoes helped sweeten the tomatoes to be roasted. The end result was a concentrated rich spread which I served with focaccia bread. I added a couple of thinly sliced carrots to mellow out the acidity in the soup. I also used more tomatoes than stock which resulted in a dense and rich soup punctuated with bites of sweet corn, herby flecks of cilantro and a bright splash of lime juice. It was a mighty nice lunch.

    Roasted tomatoes

    4 cups tomatoes- cut in half
    A light sprinkle of kosher salt -approx. 1/2 to 1 tsp.
    Sugar- about 1 tsp for about 4 cups
    3-5 sliced garlic
    2-3 Tablsp. olive oil
    several sprigs of fresh oregano or basil

    Toss and roast in large pan at 300 degrees for 4 hours or until there is no more liquid in pan. Can be used for a light pasta sauce with onions and pancetta, in soups, topping for crostini or spread between foccacia with roasted veggies( eggplant, zucchini /goat cheese, pesto.

    MexiCali Rose Tomato soup

    1 chopped onion
    4-5 smashed chopped garlic
    2-3 Tablsp. olive oil
    1 heaping tsp. cumin powder
    1 heaping tsp. coriander powder
    1 Tablsp. smoked or regular paprika
    1 tsp.oregano leaves
    4-6 cups of roughly cut up fresh tomatoes
    1 tsp.chopped jalapeno pepper ( take out seeds and connective membrane)
    2 large carrots thinly sliced
    3-4 cups chicken stock
    1 cup diced potatoes
    1 cup corn- fresh or frozen
    Handful of chopped cilantro stems
    fresh lime wedges

    Saute onions and garlic in oil till soft. Add cumin, coriander, paprika and oregano and saute over medium heat for 1-2 minutes till aromatic. Add tomatoes and jalapeno pepper. Cook at medium heat till soft. Add carrots,potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to boil, simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add cilantro and corn. Simmer for 5-10 minutes longer. Add salt to taste. Serve with wedges of fresh lime.

    Celebrating Spring

    Croque monsieur

    Celebrating Spring

    Spring is in the air, Ah… Choo! Green sprouts and buds are appearing everywhere. Birds are chirping, the sun is out. Yahoo! I feel like celebrating this greening, this rebirth by eating one of mother earth’s gifts. Ta Da! The asparagus!

    The asparagus is such an elegant vegetable. Proud, erect, regal in its bearing, I always feel a sense of honor eating it. Its flavor is delicate but distinctively sweet and lightly grassy. It can be steamed, roasted, grilled, stir-fried or baked. I love to roast them for a very short time in a hot oven with a light drizzle of soy sauce, lemon juice, sesame oil and a sprinkle of sesame seed. Sometimes I steam them until they are just al-dente and serve them with plain old mayonnaise for dipping. Other times I serve them as a light and elegant appetizer for a special meal. I change the flavor of the dipping or hollandaise sauce to fit the theme of what I’m serving.

    Green and grand atop a Croque Monsieur, it makes an impressive brunch entree. A croque monsieur is basically a French style grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Over the years many cooks have fancied up this sandwich by dipping it in an egg milk batter and frying it. Others have incorporated béchamel sauce in it. My favorite version is from Tartine, in San Francisco. They serve it open faced with a draping of rich béchamel sauce and asparagus. Using their house baked bread; it is simply sublime in its richness. Here’s my version of Tartine’s croque monsieur.

    Croque Monsieur
    Serves: 4 (two slices each)

    8 slices of sourdough bread or levain bread sliced ½ inch thick
    ¼ cup olive oil
    16- medium sized asparagus
    8 –pieces of thinly sliced cooked ham
    3 cups grated Gruyere cheese

    Cheese Béchamel sauce*
    2 cups whole milk
    ¼ cup diced onions
    3-Tablespoons chopped parsley
    1 –teaspoon lemon thyme
    1 –bay leaf
    3 ½- Tablespoons butter
    3 ½- Tablespoons flour
    1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
    3- Tablespoons Dijon mustard
    ¼- teaspoon white pepper
    ½- teaspoon salt
    ½- teaspoon grated nutmeg

    Add onion, parsley, thyme and bay leaf to milk. At medium heat, bring milk almost to a boil, turn off fire and let herbs steep in milk for 15 minutes. In a separate pot, make a roux by melting butter and adding flour together over medium heat. Whisk the flour and butter together and let it bubble gently for 2 minutes. Drain onion mixture from milk. Add the drained milk to this roux and whisk until smooth. Bring to boil, then turn down to low heat and cook for another 10 minutes, whisking occasionally to keep sauce smooth. Add 1 cup grated Gruyere, salt, pepper, nutmeg and mustard. Whisk until combined and smooth. Set aside. Blanch or nuke asparagus for 1 minute and set aside.
    Brush bread on both sides with olive oil and toast in a 450-degree oven till one side is crisp. This should take approximately 5-10 minutes. Turn bread over and spread 1 Tablespoon of béchamel sauce over the surface. Lay a slice of ham, then 2 asparagus spears across the length of the bread. Spread 1 ½ Tablespoons of béchamel sauce over asparagus and ham and sprinkle approximately 2-3 Tablespoons of grated Gruyere over ham and asparagus. Bake in oven till melted and brown. This takes approximately 10-15 minutes. Enjoy !

    I have served this for an elegant brunch, dinner as well as appetizer when cut into fourths.

    *Béchamel sauce recipe adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

    Here’s an additional topping for non-meat eaters or mushroom lovers.

    Wild mushroom topping

    1/4 cup butter
    2 Tablespoon olive oil
    1/3 lb. shitake mushrooms sliced 1/2″ thick
    1/3 lb. cremini mushrooms sliced 1/2″thick
    1 Tablespoon minced garlic
    1 teaspoon minced lemon thyme- fresh or dried
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    3 Tablespoons sherry
    3 Tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
    Melt butter with olive oil. Saute over medium high heat, the mushrooms until they start to give up their liquids. Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and continue to saute until they is almost no liquid in pan. Add sherry and saute over high heat for 3 minutes.
    Add parsley and toss over medium heat for 2 minutes.