Archive for the ‘comfort foods’ Category

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!








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    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.

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    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 



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