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Monday, June 19, 2017

TALES – OLD & RECENT - OF LENTIL-BASED CHUNKY SOUP.


I know it’s mid-summer. And, yes, I’m preparing a hot, chunky soup. I LOVE home-made soup and always have. It's healthy. What's more, this kind of soup is not only filling but also helps make us sweat, thereby cooling the body. All tropical cultures, at least, the ones I know about, eat warm and often spicy foods to create a higher level of perspiration. It’s nature’s own cooling system. So, even though it’s the summer solstice, let’s talk soup –chunky-style, at that.

Now, for a bit of personal background lore…
Today, as I prepared what might be my 100th - or more - pot of lentil-based, veggie soup, I found myself a bit misty. Past memories came back to me of a time when chunky soups meant an awful lot in terms of nutrition and comfort. This reminiscence was the product of some Internet news I saw today about not one, but two, tropical storms that appear to be on a target course for Texas or some other Gulf destination.
And I remember a time when my husband, Enrique, his good friend, Bob, and I spent the better part of a month eating chunky soup almost every night. Imagine that, and we didn’t complain a bit, since we considered ourselves more than lucky to have all that soup. It was, back then, when Hurricane Wilma devastated a good part of South Florida, including our own condo and the entire building that we’d been living in for 5 years. Enrique’s friend, Bob, invited us to spend time with him in his condo - nearby - that was not so much affected by the storm. We thought it would be just for a few days or a couple of weeks. But it turned out to be more like eight weeks.

In the first week, we didn’t have electricity and our menus were made up of what Bob had in his pantry and the cans that we’d bought when we knew the storm was approaching. Luckily, Bob had a patio gas-run grill and we were able to heat up essential food and drinks on the grill. Main courses were a bit hard to come up with. Fortunately, we had plenty of cans of chunky soup. So, for that first week, we ate soup out of cans, just warmed over, along with crackers, olives and such in order to conserve cooking gas. Then, in the second week, the electricity came back on. Cooking, was then, less of a problem. Still, we decided to keep our food budget as low as possible, given the economic crunch that we found ourselves in when our work places did not reopen for several weeks. Our answer was to make chunky soup with the addition of white rice and garlic bread as our go-to menu for supper that month. I bought a lot of lentils and other quick-cook and canned legumes, and whatever fresh veggies I could find. The supermarkets, when they reopened, didn’t have a lot of fresh produce – and that lasted for several weeks.

My main productive role during that mostly quiet month was soup cook. I simmered chunky soup all day in the slow cooker. And, with the aid of a large rice cooker, I prepared enough white rice for three days at a time. Plain sandwich bread - the only bread available for some time - was toasted and spread with margarine and garlic salt. We enjoyed our meals and were grateful to be eating well –– or, at least, what we considered correctly – at a time when so many other people were having a hard time feeding their families. So much for reminisces.

Most recent chunky soup
There are a few tried and true soup-making tips that every cook should know. And remembering some of these tips, I've successfully once again made soup – and if I may say so - with great flavor (and as little effort as possible).

 - Sauté all the chopped vegetables to enhance the flavor. But, if you’re short on time, just skip the sauté and add all the vegetables and accompaniments to the pot.
- Use some aromatic vegetables –garlic, onion, leek, etc, among others, and add all the veggies directly into the pot for good flavor and no waste.
- Don’t be shy about using time-savers, including such things as canned beans and frozen veggies.
- Use a stock cube or some soy sauce or pesto to get more flavor into the soup. Any of these can make a big flavor difference.
- Don’t dilute the soup too much when you begin the cooking process. You can always a bit more water later if the soup appears too thick.
- Spices are your friends. Proper seasoning is a must for all dishes and especially so for veggie soups. Salt, pepper, a variety of your favorite spices – even a squeeze of lemon or vinegar - will give some zing to the final product. Just be sure to taste after putting in what seems to be just a little seasoning. Experience has shown that it’s not easy to overcome an over-salted or over-spiced soup.
- Last minute, soup toppings are great, too. A regular tasting soup gets a lift with toppings such as croutons, cut green onions, grated cheese, avocado slices or a few toasted nuts.


So, here’s the recipe for chunky soup that I improvised today, made with fresh veggies and pantry ingredients - no particular recipe consulted. I think this soup would be a winner any time of the year and in all sorts of climate, including hot, cold, stormy and post-stormy weather.

Chunky lentil-based soup, great in all kinds of weather...  (6 to 8 servings)

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves
4 small potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (18 ounce) can lentil soup
Enough water or broth for thinning
4 ounces of tomato sauce
1 ½ cups of red cabbage, cut up in slices
¾ cup of pasta noodles (optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
Toppings: Parmesan cheese, cut green onions, or sunflower seeds

Instructions
- In a large pot, heat olive oil and sauté carrots, cabbage, garlic, onions and potatoes for 5 minutes.

- Add the canned lentils and other ingredients to the pot.

- Bring the soup mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes. Add noodles and cook for another 10 minutes.

- Serve immediately or reheat later with one or more toppings. Leftovers keep well for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. (Soup is always better the second day.)

Notes
I made this stove-top soup in less than sixty minutes but it cooks just as well in the crock pot. It might take 4 to 6 hours to slow-cook the soup.

Go veggie-crazy and add any of your favorites. Modifications of this kind of soup almost always taste great. You can also use up whatever veggies you find at the end of the week as a version of “refrigerator-stew”.

This lentil-based, chunky soup is perfect for quick everyday lunches and suppers. What's more, I’ve taken similar soups to covered-dish dinners. And it's always "just perfect" for all kinds of weather.

Friday, February 24, 2017

QUICK & TASTY RADISH & CARROT PICKLES


There are a few veggies that are almost always available at markets and remain fairly cheap all year long. A good deal, right? But, on the other hand, we – you and I - may not be used to buying them. For me, radishes were among those veggies. I always found them somewhat overpowering like raw garlic and onions. My own feeling was that radishes were good – finely sliced - in small doses buried in a green salad but, still, the quantity that I could consume was very little indeed. Most every time I bought a bunch of those rosy red roots, I found some left behind in my vegetable bin at the end of the week.

I, of course, knew what to do - serve the remainder to my husband who loves them and can eat them as a snack without anything – not even a dressing or dip. Now, with this recipe that I'm sharing with you, I know how to love those little red goodies and find no obstacle to consuming some of them most any day. I found that I truly like radishes when they pack a vinegary punch. Actually, the recipe is one my husband showed me how to make. I asked him to add the carrots, thinking - correctly, as it turned out - that the sweet of the carrot would combine nicely with the spicy tart of the radish.

So, here's our recipe for crisp, radish and carrot pickles. We made our first batch this past Sunday afternoon. We have pickled other things, before, and I don’t know why we took me so long to make these tasty pickles. They're so easy to make and go great with all kinds of foods, from tacos to salads, to sandwiches and crackers.

We sliced the veggies very thin because that way they soak up the flavors of vinegar and spices in just a few hours. A sharp chef’s knife was the key to getting the thin slices.
A sharp chef-style knife will make the work a lot easier.


The best thing about these quick pickles is that they’re ready munch on right away. We ate some about 4 hours after they were made – still a bit crunchy but good.

Here is the recipe for these tasty pickled radishes and carrots . The recipe as given below yields about 2 to 3 cups of pickles.

Ingredients
1 bunch radishes (should make 1.5 cups when thinly sliced)
2 medium carrots, also thinly sliced (about a cup's worth)
¾ cup balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar
juice of a medium lime (something my husband always adds for extra zip)
2 tablespoons of minced garlic
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 cup of balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon of black pepper or a bit of crushed red pepper flakes

Instructions
To prepare the veggies: Wash and slice off the tops and bottoms of the radishes and carrots, then use a sharp knife to slice the veggies into very thin rounds. Peel and mince the garlic. Pack the rounds and garlic into a quart-sized canning jar.  

Sprinkle the kosher salt on top and shake the jar to thoroughly salt the veggies. Leave without a top (or cover with a clean kitchen cloth secured to the jar with a rubber band) and let them sweat for, at least, 30 minutes. This step ensure crunchier veggies.

Add the vinegar, lemon juice and pepper. If you use some other kind of vinegar - other than balsamic - you may want to dissolve a couple of teaspoons of sugar with it. Make sure that there is some space between the veggies and the rim of the jar. This allows a space for the good gases produced by fermentation. Shake, again, to make sure you've coated all the veggies. Put a secure top on the jar and refrigerate. They're good to go from the first day.
These pickles keep very well for a week or ten days, and usually will be gone long before that. 

Best of all, you can pickle almost any thinly sliced vegetables in this manner. Try carrots, beets, cucumbers, red onions, cabbage or cauliflower. The thinner you slice the vegetables, the better they absorb the vinegar solution and taste like pickles.

Vinegar is good for us, too. It helps control high blood pressure, improve digestive system, reduce urinary tract infections and strengthen bone. With this pickle recipe, you will have a delicious way to have a little vinegar everyday. So go ahead with confidence and make pickles of all kinds, knowing it's almost impossible to get it wrong, and, for most people, they're a spicy delight. And get ready to for a lifetime (healthy) addiction to homemade pickles.






Monday, October 24, 2016

LOOMED KNIT BABY STROLLER BLANKET.



Yay! – I’ve just finished this baby stroller blanket. 

There is something exciting about creating a gift to celebrate a baby’s birth. Of course, in this case it is even more special. The baby is being welcomed as a new addition to our own family – for me: grandchild number four, grandson number two. So, it was a joy to knit a gift for him. He was born last weekend - healthy but a couple of weeks early - and that's my excuse for not having sent it off yet. The mailing will be done ASAP.


In my mind, every baby needs a special baby blanket, something that's all their own. I not only believe this now but always have. So, along with my sons and grand kids, that makes six knitted baby blankets that I've made over my lifetime.  Oh! I also have made  blankets as gifts for other babies, but most of those tend to be made of soft material with a crocheted edge. Nice, but not so much work went into them.


Did I follow a specific pattern so I would know how big the blanket will turn out?  Turns out that I didn’t. I winged it. The result was a cover about 40 inches long and 28 inches wide - big enough to classify as a stroller blanket from what I've seen on the Internet.



The style, I hope, is trendy and chic – a colorful striped pattern that can grow with baby instead of seeming “babyish.”



The yarn is an acrylic – the better for frequent washing - of medium weight, doubled. It’s made of white yarn – along with four bright colors (red, green, blue and yellow).  I pulled out the long green loom that I’ve been using for the past five years.

You can might guess from the photo, the cover was knitted as a flat panel.  I e-wrapped the pegs all the way down, around and across the back side of the loom, including all the pegs except one at the end. 

The pattern was unusual.  It was knitted in a single piece,  consisting of a series of colored stripes -  that were all to be three rows wide. The white spaces between each of the stripes were to be 6, along with 8 white rows on each end. The reality was that I lost count – several times - and the stripes turned out to be a bit irregular. But I did manage to keep the order of the colors that I planned and the slight irregularity makes it look nicer - a bit like homespun – or at least I think so.
Easy to make loomed knit baby blanket.


The upside to this kind of knitting? It's really easy. You are basically e-wrapping and knitting over the whole thing. Total time was about 20 hours – done leisurely over four weeks.



Was there any down side on the loom knitting? Not so much. Other than a slight shrinkage that had to do with yarn wrap tension and the cast-on edge rolled a little. Again, I wasn't concerned as I knew beforehand about these limitations and planned to add a border all around to finish it off. It was really no problem to do the half-double crochet edge that gave a more finished look.  Another down side of loom knitting came from an obvious right side and a  less finished looking backside. But, now that it’s completed, the backside seems O.K.


Reminiscing now: my sons (now fathers, themselves) really loved their handmade knitted blankets.  In the toddler years, they carried around their "blankies" as a comfort when taking a nap or settling down to bed at night. Unfortunately, those blankets are long gone. So many years have passed. 

Each of the three older grand kids also had their own soft, handmade baby blanket.  But the grand kids are all still young and I suppose that their newborn blankets are being kept somewhere - or better yet, have been passed on to other family additions.


For now, I hope that my daughter-in-law will remember this blanket and tuck it around the baby in the stroller on cool/cold mornings.  When he doesn’t need it for outside use, it can be folded in half and placed on the foot of his bed. Of course, I realize that he will have many lovely blankets, but I bet only a very few of them (or, possibly, none of the others) were made specially for him.