Red Beans and Rice with Chili Vinaigrette

Serves 6 to 8

Judging from the popularity of Winter Wheat Berry Salad, I am offering a recipe for another whole-grain salad. This delicious dish has been part of my repertoire for over 20 years and I’ve made it many, many times. It travels well to a potluck and tastes best served at room temperature – and that’s a bonus if the weather is warm.

3 cups cooked brown rice

1  1/2 cups cooked light red kidney beans, or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed

1  1/2 cups cooked dark red kidney beans, or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed

1  1/2 cups frozen or canned corn kernels

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup chopped green onion, mostly green part

1/3 cup canola oil

1  1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

1  1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

 

In a large bowl combine the rice, beans, corn, red bell pepper and green onion. Toss to mix. In a small bowl combine the oil, vinegar, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin and salt. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is well blended. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature, tossing occasionally for up to 4 hours before serving, or cover and refrigerate up to 3 days.

10 Money-Saving Menu Ideas
10 Money-Saving Menu Ideas

Perhaps I’m getting old, but I’m starting to feel a “pocket book” (don’t you love that word) pinch when I do my weekly grocery shopping. Last Thursday, during said trip, I reached for a jar of roasted tomato salsa that’s one of my favorites. I promptly put the jar back on the shelf when I read the price on the shelf tag. Sure, I’d pay $4.99 a jar for salsa made locally and sold at a farmer’s market, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $4.99 for a jar of commercial salsa at Kroger that one year ago cost $2.99.  While I realize everyone from the producer, to the distributor, to the grocer is trying to make their profit, I decided to make another choice. I spent two dollars on avocados and made guacamole instead.

According to the USDA, a family of four spends approximately $80.00 more each month on groceries than 2 years ago. For most families, this increase in grocery cost does not coincide with an increase in family income.  It’s also quite possible this cost increase has occurred on the heels of  no growth in income, a decrease in income, or even job-downsizing.  I know I can’t personally control food prices, but what I can control is our family’s food costs – how much we spend on food. Here are some menu ideas for saving money without sacrificing nutrition:

1. Eat meatless more often. Meat can be the most costly item on our menus. Skillet red beans, curried chick peas, lentil soup, quick vegetarian vegetable soup, or smoky black beans appear quite a bit around here. On the nights we do eat meat, I serve a large salad, some vegetables, and bread and butter. This variety takes the focus off the expensive item and helps fill us up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

2.  Cook breakfast for dinner AND cook from scratch for breakfast. Eggs, but not designer eggs, can be very inexpensive. Omelets, egg casseroles, or a fritattas make for a tasty, inexpensive meal. Made from scratch pancakes, French toast, or waffles can be very inexpensive as well. Boxed breakfast items are generally more expensive than their from-scratch counterparts and check out those ingredient lists on the boxes. Whoo-wee.  I can’t even pronounce half the stuff, much less do I want to eat it. No time to cook on week-mornings? Cook and freeze French toast, pancakes, or waffles on the weekend and pop them in the toaster to warm and serve. Silver Dollar Corncakes with a drizzle of syrup make a tasty alternative to traditional pancakes.

3.  Eat greens and beans . When fresh greens are not available, frozen turnip greens or frozen chopped spinach work well in most recipes. Dried beans or legumes (see #7) can be very inexpensive and quite filling.

4.  Eat homemade soup. Serve with a loaf of hearty whole-grain bread and maybe some fruit or a salad. In warmer weather consider preparing a cold, homemade soup such …

Good Dog! Maggie
Good Dog! Maggie

If last week I seemed strangely absent, you are correct. I was absent. But not for reasons you might expect. I wasn’t caught up in my kitchen baking and cooking away. I wasn’t furiously testing recipes for my clients. I wasn’t nose to the grindstone, reading cookbook manuscripts. I was distracted. Meet Maggie.

 

Now for the back story. For about the past 6 months we have been discussing adopting a dog. We visited the local animal shelter, on a semi-regular basis, knowing when the right dog found us I would be open to adopting, and bringing home, the pooch.

Find me she did. For some strange reason I followed promptings in my head, and in my heart, and drove to the shelter alone last Monday. I arrived around 11:00 a.m. and spent time with a black and white furry dog name Nicco. He was a bouncy, large-pawed puppy. Cute, playful, and not full grown, Nicco was a little too active for my lifestyle. The dog that finds me needs to sit by my side while I write my blog and work at my computer. I returned Nicco to his pen and made my way down the row of cages where silver chain-link fence seperated me from the barking dogs. Sitting quitely in a pen, almost near the end of the row, I spied Maggie, a small blonde and white dog, who wasn’t barking. Her hair curled over her big brown eyes and her wet black nose investigated my outstretched hand. We went on a walk, I petted her belly, and it didn’t take long before I was attached to this sweet little doggie. She won my heart. Because she was already spayed, all I had to do was fill out the application, pay the fee, and Maggie was mine.

So you see, last week, I was here doing my work, cooking for the family, playing with and walking my dog. So far, we’re adjusting to each other pretty well. She’s learning the ropes and I’m busy figuring out her routine. Right now she’s asleep in a chair across from where I’m sitting. So I apologize for my absence last week. It’s all Maggie’s fault. And, yes, we share the same name. No one around here calls me Maggie anyway. And if you call on the phone and ask for Maggie, I’ll assume you want to talk to me.…

Chile Cheddar Cornbread
Makes one 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan

A moist cornbread studded with chilies, cheese, and corn. Two cups fresh or frozen corn kernels can be substituted for the creamed corn, if desired. If you want extra-spicy cornbread, substitute pepper-jack cheese for the cheddar.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
One 15-ounce can creamed corn
Two 4-ounce cans diced or chopped green chile peppers, drained
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking or cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In another bowl whisk together the milk, oil, and eggs. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture just until combined. Fold in the corn, chilies, and cheese. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the edges of the cornbread are golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.…

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes - Again
Let’s try again. The paragraphs in the original post were out of order. It’s funny, but when I formatted the recipe the first time I kept having trouble with the breaks between the ingredients and the instructions. I guess a few other important things got messed up as well. My astute readers Sharie and Frances were paying attention. Away we go with the new and reorganized recipe. I promise these will taste better if you cook the potatoes before you mash them!

We eat these potatoes quite a bit, but I have yet to take a picture. During the winter it’s dark here when we eat dinner and the food photos don’t turn out well at all. Tonight the time changes, so we’re headed into evenings with more light! Now about the recipe – the fresh garlic mellows and tastes sweet when boiled with the potatoes. This is a dairy-free recipe where the simplicity of the potatoes shines through. Choose a thin-skinned gold-fleshed potato for the best results. I would imagine that a red-skin or new potato would work just as well. I typically don’t use russets or Idaho potatoes for this recipe.

Serves 6 

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, or other thin-skinned potato
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Scrub potatoes but do not peel. Cut potatoes into large chunks. Place potatoes and garlic in a 2 1/2-quart sauce pan and cover the potato with cold water. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and cook for about 25 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. 

Use a measuring cup to dip out and set aside about 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the remaining liquid off the potatoes. Add the olive oil, salt, pepper, and reserved cooking liquid to the cooked potatoes Using a hand-held potato masher or large fork, mash the potatoes to the desired consistency. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if desired.

Winter Wheat Berry Salad - Part Deux

For anyone who’s interested I posted the nutrition analysis for the Winter Wheat Berry Salad per Vicki’s request. Click on this link and look in the comments section of the recipe for the numbers.  As I suspected, this tasty salad is full of fiber. The sodium content could be lowered a bit by using low-sodium soy sauce.  Makes me want to head to the kitchen because I love this salad.…

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

Don’t stress out if your cream cheese and butter aren’t at room temperature. All is not lost. It’s a little easier to make this frosting with softened cream cheese and butter but if you forgot to soften them, go ahead and proceed, just beat a little longer to achieve a smooth consistency before adding the confectioners’ sugar. One more word of caution: Be sure not to add to much milk. It’s much easier to make this frosting thinner by adding a titch more milk, but if you add too much milk then it takes a lot of sugar to thicken the frosting back up, not to mention how the excess sugar deadens the flavor of the cream cheese. OK, finally, the split vanilla bean is completely optional. I like to add the vanilla bean flecks when I have one on hand to make the frosting look like fresh vanilla bean ice cream.

One 8-ounce package regular or low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, optional
about 2 tablespoons milk

Place cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Beat about 3 minutes with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stop the mixer and pour in the sugar and vanilla. If using, scrape the vanilla specks out of the bean with the edge of a small paring knife and add to the cream cheese and butter, too. On low speed, beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn mixer to medium-high and continue to beat until smooth. With the mixer running, gradually add 1 tablespoon of milk and beat well. If too thick to spread, gradually add more milk as needed until soft and more spreadable. The test for frosting is it shouldn’t pull the top layer off the cake when spreading. That’s a total bummer.

Makes enough for one 13 x 9-inch cake…

Moist Carrot Cake
Moist Carrot Cake

 

Make one 13 x 9 x 2-inch cake

Carrot cake conjures up images of a small restaurant with mismatched chairs, rickety tables, and thick white coffee mugs. (Sounds like my kitchen table, now that I think about it. One of my sisters describes this as the “beat all to hell” -style of decorating. I digress.)

This cake is so homey. moist, and earthy. I just love it, so let’s have a group hug. My recipe uses golden raisins and applesauce. If desired you can substitute 1 cup of coconut for the raisins, and 1 cup drained, crushed pineapple for the applesauce.

2 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups white whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups canola oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 carrots, peeled and grated (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup unsweetened applesauce

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray with flour, or grease and flour the pan.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl stir together the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the carrots, nuts, raisins, and applesauce. Fold in the flour mixture until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and using the back of a large spoon or rubber spatula spread evenly. Bake for about 50 minutes until the center of the cake springs back slightly when pressed in the center with two fingertips. Cool completely in the pan. Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting. ( OK, one more group hug.)…

What's the Deal with Kale?
What's the Deal with Kale?

A few days ago I participated in an interview for a radio program about Kale – purchasing kale, types of kale, and of course, tips for cooking kale. The interview will air on Saturday February 28, 2009 at 8:30 am CST in Chicago on the radio program 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life hosted by Dave Grotto, RD. You can listen to the show one of these three ways:

1. Listen live in Chicago on WYLL 8:30 am CST

2. Streaming live WYLL.com 8:30 am CST

3. Enjoy the podcast on Dave’s website

Kale guru, friend, fellow RD, Diana Dyer (visit her blog about kale) spoke with Dave about the health benefits of kale. I can’t wait to hear the program. Several of Diana’s delicious kale recipes, along with a few of my own, Quick Vegetarian Vegetable Soup and Black-Eyed Peas and Green Soup, will be posted on Dave’s website.

Incidentally, I did forget to mention, when talking to Dave, about a more convenient form of kale sold in a bag, washed, trimmed, and ready to use. On Fat Tuesday I cooked a bag of such kale with a little water, then dressed it with vinegar, sugar, and a bit of bacon – sort of a sweet and sour treatment. The color was spectacular and it made quite a tasty side dish for our Cajun Red Beans and Rice. So,when you’re shopping for kale, don’t forget the convenience of these ready-to-use bags.…

You Talkin' To Me?
You Talkin' To Me?
Not that I’m telling you what to do or anything, BUT if you are reading my blog and have never commented this post is for you. Over the past several months the number of daily visitors and subscribers to my blog has steadily grown. For that I am extremely grateful. I’d like to encourage everyone to comment. Whenever anyone comments it not only adds to the discussion but it also enhances the community around My Kitchen Table. And, your comments make me think more about what I’m writing or going to write. Take a chance and post a comment. Don’t be shy. Let’s get this party started.
 
Meet Brownie's Sister Blondie

I’m proud to present, for the very first time, One Pan Blondie. This nutty companion to our brunette favorite – One Pan Brownies –  is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon cup of tea.

Makes one 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1  1/2 sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk to blend well and set aside. 

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Remove pan from the heat and whisk in the brown sugar until well combined. Let cool to the touch. Stir in the eggs, milk, and vanilla until well blended. Using a rubber spatula fold in the flour mixture, chocolate chips, and nuts. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Be sure not to overbake. Cool on a rack. Have one or two before they’re gone. Just like the brownies, these don’t last long at my house.…

14 Ways to Relax With or Without A Valentine
14 Ways to Relax With or Without A Valentine

1.

Watch the sunrise.

2.

Play a musical instrument.

3.

Laugh – until you cry, or pee in your pants. Now that’s funny.

4.

Make homemade brownies.

5.

Whistle.

6.

Go bowling, but not alone. (Have you read the book Bowling Alone?)

7.

Wave at children on school buses or in passing cars.

8.

Lie on your back and look at the stars.

9.

Kindle new friendships.

10.

Reread your favorite poem, out loud.

11.

Try everything offered by supermarket food demonstrators.

12.

Tell someone you love them.

13.

Tell someone thank you.

14.

Begin the day with your favorite music and a lit candle.

 ps: Hi- if your RSS feed reported 20 ways to relax I apologize. I can’t count late at night. Have a great weekend!

adapted from H. Jackson Browne

Guacamole - Plain and Simple
Guacamole - Plain and Simple

My counter-top vegetable basket typically houses garlic bulbs, onions, shallots, and one or two avocados in various states of ripening, or rotting, as the case may be. When one appears on its way out, rather than feed my compost bin, I make guacamole. For my plain and simple guacamole, I’ll be honest, I don’t chase authenticity; I prevent waste. Because I like to taste a bit of acid, heat, and garlic I focus on ingredients to satisfy those flavors, and then if I have the inclination, and ingredients, I dress it up: fresh cilantro, chopped tomato, or diced red onion are always winners. If I don’t have the inclination, or extra ingredients, it’s just fine plain and simple. This recipe is easily doubled, or tripled, or….

No matter how you devour an avocado it remains full of MUFA’s (monounsaturated fatty acids). Research is proving MUFA’s to be good for your heart, your brain, and despite their high calorie/fat content, avocados don’t contribute to “belly” fat, or as I like to say a “muffin top” (if you know what I mean, ladies.) Why not make avocados a staple in your kitchen? When they start to turn soft it helps to remember a bowl of plain and simple guacamole is only a few mashes away.

Makes one bowl of guacamole, depending on the size of your avocado

1 Hass avocado (not a large Florida avocado. Most supermarkets sell the Hass variety)
1 teaspoon fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, or 1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large dashes Tabasco Sauce

Using a sharp knife cut the avocado in half by running the knife around the entire avocado from north pole to south pole and back up to north pole, not around the equator. (I hope you were paying attention in geography class.)

Twist the avocado and it should come apart in two pieces. One piece will house the pit, and the other piece pit-free. Using a spoon, or the tip of the knife, CAREFULLY remove the pit. (This can be tricky, but if your avocado is ripe, or just beyond, removing the pit is easy. Unripe avocados squeeze their pits, for various reasons I’ll can’t explain, making them quite difficult to remove.)

Holding one half of the avocado in a cupped hand, use a large spoon and scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin. Place the flesh in a bowl. Repeat with the other half. This technique I find so much easier than trying to peel an avocado and all the while chasing the slippery beast around on the cutting board.

Using the back of a large fork mash the avocado to your favorite consistency – chunky or smooth – it’s a free country. It’s your choice. Add lemon or lime juice, garlic, salt, and Tabasco. Mash again until all ingredients are well blended. Enjoy with chips, or as a topping on burritos, black beans, tacos, pork tortilla soup, …..the list is almost endless.…

What We Ate The Past Few Months

I’m taking you again to to www.wordle.net  for a pretty tasty visual menu of foods we’ve eaten since I began this blog. Rice, beans, chicken, soup, salad, bread and the word green stand out. That means those foods were on the menus several times, and foods such as cherry, baguette, and alfredo appeared on our menus less. Bummer on the alfredo.

If you haven’t given wordle a spin for yourself, take a document and copy and paste the text into the wordle box to create your own word cloud.  Better yet, create a wordle valentine. You might (or might not) be surprised by the words that jump out at you. By the way, you’ll need Java to use wordle and to view my menu. If Java creates too much frustration, or causes you to spend large amounts of time monkeying with your firewall instead of doing more important stuff ,  don’t worry about it.  It’s pretty neat but not worth too much frustration.…

One Pan Brownies
One Pan Brownies

Makes one 11 x 7-inch pan of brownies

Chocolately, dark, and cakey these brownies are super easy to prepare. And believe me, they are just as easy as made-from-a-mix brownies and taste even better. An alternative name could be 1/2 cup brownies. Look at all the 1/2 cup measurements in the ingredient list! The rich taste of the brown sugar compliments the cocoa. I’ve used both light and dark brown sugar – so take your pick.

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 11 x 7-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Measure flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Whisk to blend and set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Remove pan from the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until well combined. Let cool to the touch. Stir in the eggs and vanilla until well blended. Using a rubber spatula fold in the flour mixture, chocolate chips, and nuts. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean. Be sure not to overbake. Cool on a rack. Have one or two before they’re gone. These don’t last long at my house.…

Baked Chex Mix - Part Duex
Baked Chex Mix - Part Duex

I just have to share a bit of information with you guys (and gals) and it’s not about this butterfly, or spring, or warm weather.  It’s about something food related:

About a month ago I posted several recipes for goodies I traditionally cook/bake around Christmas. This might seem rather odd, but homemade Chex Mix made the cut. We ALWAYS stir together a double batch of Chex Mix to nibble on during the holidays. Chex Mix is the perfect blend of salt, garlic, nuts, and crunch. I like to pick out the corn Chex first, then the rice Chex, then the wheat Chex, and all we’re left with is a bowl of lonely peanuts whose Chex Mix friends have been eaten one by one.

OK – so why am I blabbering on and on about Chex Mix? Well, my blog stats went through the roof back in December when I posted the recipe. Seems that General Mills had modernized their recipe by “baking” the mix in the microwave oven. They did this to all recipes on their boxes of cereal and their website. Can you imagine Chex Mix made in the microwave? Well, not me. Here on this blog you’ll find the old-fashioned oven-baked recipe. According to key search words many, many of you also want to make the oven-baked version, not the new fangled microwave-baked recipe.

This past week we were iced and snowed in by a massive storm which cut a swath of downed trees and power lines from Texas to New York. My state of Kentucky was particularly hard hit. Coinciding with this ice storm I’ve watched my blog stats go through the roof, again, due to searches for “oven baked” Chex mix. I mentioned this to the best male cook I know after dinner last night. “Do you think the ice storm is driving this search for oven-baked chex mix?” He looked at me as if I had two heads and replied in sort of a flat voice, “Ice storm? No, that’s not what it is. It’s the Super Bowl.” THE SUPER BOWL – I’m pretty sure he’s right – it’s the Super Bowl! Oven-baked chex mix and the Super Bowl are a perfect match. Salt, crunch, nuts, touchdown!

I say welcome if you’re here looking for the recipe for oven-baked Chex mix. Be sure to come back and visit from time to time. Better yet subscribe to my RSS feed and you’ll automatically be alerted to updates. But since you’re here, take a few minutes to read some other favorite posts and recipes:

Why Do I Share What We Ate This Week

Exploring Health In A Whole New Way

All I Need Is A Kitchen Table

and a few favorite recipes:

Quick Vegetarian Vegetable Soup

Winter Wheat Berry Salad

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

The Zen of Real Food
The Zen of Real Food

I love Google Reader and how it presents my RSS feeds. I’ve learned a secret to keeping up with posts from my favorite blogs: use Google Reader smartly. Smartly I say because Google Reader can inadvertently keep me from doing something that might be a tich more important: work, write, cook, relax with my family, etc. My kids, and the best male cook I know, don’t enjoy looking at the back of my laptop lid anymore than I enjoy looking at them with a remote control or Nintendo DS in their hand. During times we’re together that is.

Lately, one of my favorite blogs is Zen Habits. A few days ago, guest blogger Scott Kustes (from Louisville, KY – yeah!) wrote about Keeping Eating Simple. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from his writing:

1. When it comes to healthy eating, you just can’t beat your own kitchen. In fact, I’ll guarantee that the more you cook at home, the healthier you will be. Obviously though, having healthy foods on hand is imperative.

2. Here’s another aspect of cooking that seems to scare many people off: you don’t have to be competing for the title of Iron Chef to cook delicious, healthy meals.

3. Pick a few smart vices (like dark chocolate, good beer or wine, chips and salsa, ice cream, probably not Dunkin Donuts) and pepper them throughout your life to make things enjoyable. Frankly, life is too short to give up everything, but by being good 90% of the time, you’ll find that the other 10% doesn’t really hurt you and is far more enjoyable.

We’re “iced in” here in my part of the world, with another 3 to 6 inches of snow predicted today to top off the ice. I’m hunkering down, not reading Google reader, but working with 2 cookbook authors on their cookbook projects.  Have a good day!  I’ll be back soon with another tasty recipe or more food for thought. If you have a minute, click over to Zen Habits to read more about Keeping Eating Simple.…

Tasty Lentil Soup
Tasty Lentil Soup

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t make some variety of soup for dinner. Because I love meals I can cook on the stove top, I certainly don’t mind standing and chopping the veggies… when all is chopped, the soup cooks itself, and doesn’t require my full attention like a stir-fry or making doughnuts.

Progresso Lentil Soup has long been a favorite. When the best male cook I know and I lived in Michigan we ate our weight in Progresso’s soup. Now, with several more mouths to feed, more attention paid to ingredient lists, more awareness about sodium in processed foods, and more thermoses to fill (does a thermos scream geek or not when packed in a lunchbox? Post your comments) making Lentil Soup from scratch is a nutritious, and economical choice.

The lens or button-shaped lentil is a cousin of a dried bean, and both are a part of the legume family. All legumes are seeds that grow within pods. In fact, lens is the Latin word for lentil. The size and appearance of lentils varies depending on the variety. The outer seed coat can be mottled or speckled, and ranges in color from reddish-brown to grayish-brown to green. Look for lentils sold in a bag, or a box, in the aisle of your market where rice and other dried beans are sold. Lentils are loaded with fiber, complex carbohydrates, and folic acid. Folic acid is a very important nutrient especially for women of childbearing age. One cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of the recommended daily allowance for folic acid, and lentils provide more folic acid than any other unfortified food. Lentils are also an important source of iron, especially for women whose iron needs are greater during childbearing years.

Lentils are relatively simple to prepare. Begin by placing the uncooked lentils in a colander and raking them with your fingers, removing any debris or dirt. Rinse the lentils with cool water and cook as instructed in the recipe. Do not add salt to lentils until after they are soft and cooked.

Serves 8

Easily doubled – just be sure to use a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Extra portions can be frozen, thawed and reheated when a quick meal is in order.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 2 medium)
3 carrots, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons dried marjoram or oregano
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
fresh ground black pepper to taste
6 ounces (3/4 cup) dry white wine (optional)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onions, carrots, thyme, and marjoram, for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the tomatoes (and their juice), broth and lentils. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer the soup for about …

Mark Bittman Posts Food Diary

This week Mark Bittman, on his blog “Bitten“, started keeping an online food diary called “What I Ate Last Week”. I personally believe an online food diary is a terrific way to show you that eating “well” is possible. I wonder where he got the inspiration? See my What We Ate This Week dating back to October 2008 for a menu of the evening meals we eat around here.  Mark, if you or Kate (hi Kate), are reading my blog, I applaud you for being open about what you eat!…

Quick Italian Meat Sauce
Quick Italian Meat Sauce

We eat a fair amount of spaghetti, baked ravioli, and sometimes even stuffed shells on our pasta night. This sauce is quick and easy to make, plus I like my list of ingredients better than the laundry list of additives in most jarred sauces. My favorite canned crushed tomatoes are Hunt’s, Red Gold, or the brand Dei Fratelli (which has no added salt by the way). For a meatless option, use 1 pound of sliced fresh mushrooms instead of the beef.

 

Makes 7 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

Crumble the ground beef into a large skillet and place over medium heat. Cook until no longer pink. Drain off any moisture or fat from the beef. Stir in the olive oil and the garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes to soften the garlic. Add the basil, sugar, salt, thyme, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir for about 1 minute to combine. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and let cook over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes to blend the flavors and thicken the sauce.…