Minestrone has always been one of my favorite soups, but when I did an online search for recipes I found so many variations it made my head spin. Suffice to say minestrone is one of those dishes intended for using up leftovers, and for that it works quite nicely. I can clean out my fridge and create a tasty dish at the same time. Best of all, it’s never the same twice.
As I created my own version of minestrone I noticed I used a few ingredients consistently. The rest was whatever I happened to have on hand, which is why I’m leaving plenty of leeway on my ingredients list.
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic (optional)
1 cup sliced celery (optional)
1 bell pepper, chopped (optional)
1 or 2 carrots, sliced (optional)
1 small (8 oz) can tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth or water
1 can garbanzo beans
Other leftover vegetables, such as corn, lima beans, chopped zucchini or cubed potatoes
3/4 cup small pasta, such as stars, small shells, or mini farfalle
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 package of spinach, fresh, frozen or canned
Heat oil and butter, if desired, in a stock pot and saute the onion, garlic, bell pepper, carrots or celery. Cook for approximately 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add tomato sauce and broth or water. Stir well. Add any remaining vegetables, garbanzo beans, seasonings and pasta. Heat to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for twenty minutes. Add spinach and simmer for another minute or two. Serve with bread, rolls or corn muffins.
I’m told the least popular Thanksgiving side dish is the dreaded cranberry sauce. And I have to admit, that jelly looking cranberry colored blob that comes out of the can, shaped like the can, is nasty. So who wants to eat that?? Yuck.
There is, however, a tasty alternative–making your cranberry sauce from scratch. It’s surprisingly easy to prepare, and you can make your cranberry sauce a day or two ahead of time. Best of all, it freezes well, so you can serve the leftover sauce at Christmas.
Believe me, once you’ve tried fresh, you’ll never go back to canned.
TRADITIONAL CRANBERRY SAUCE
• 3 cups fresh cranberries
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup water
Place cranberries in a colander or strainer and wash thoroughly, removing any damaged berries. Set aside.
Pour water into a 2 quart saucepan and place over medium high heat. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil and add cranberries. Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally until cranberry skins begin to pop. Keep stirring for several minutes. If a smoother sauce is desired, keep stirring until most of the skins have popped. Remove from heat and set aside. Sauce will thicken as it cools. Refrigerate sauce once it reaches room temperature.
I think every family has their favorite recipes which have been passed down generation to generation. One of our favorites was Grandma’s green beans. She served them at family get-togethers for years, as did my mother. I’ve played with the recipe a little over the years, but not too much. It’s an oldie but a goody, and there are probably a lot of other grandmothers out there who made this dish as well. Here is my interpretation. Please consider this recipe a guide as I never make it the quite the same way twice. (I don’t think Grandma ever did either.)
GRANDMA’S HOMEMADE GREEN BEANS
• 1 to 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans
• 3 or 4 red potatoes
• 3 or 4 slices of bacon
• 1/2 cup chicken broth
Wash green beans, snap off ends, snap into bite-sized pieces and drop into a large mixing bowl. Scrub and dice the potatoes and add them to the beans. Cut bacon slices into small pieces and brown in a small stockpot. Once bacon is browned dump in the green beans and potatoes. Add chicken broth, stir, and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer for approximately 30 to 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and cooked all the way through. Stir occasionally, and, if necessary, add small amounts of water or chicken broth to prevent the beans from scorching. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a side dish with pork roast, pork chops or fried chicken.
I love cooking a full-course Thanksgiving dinner, even though it’s a lot of work. So much food to prepare in so little time. I have, however, figured out one quick little shortcut that helps save time, and confusion, in the kitchen.
I first discovered baked sweet potatoes at a buffet restaurant. The friend I was dining with pointed them out to me and raved about how delicious they were. While not a huge sweet potato fan myself, I noticed what an easy side dish it would be to prepare. Simply take a sweet potato, or a yam, quarter it, wrap it in foil, and bake it like a regular potato.
I tried it myself a couple of Thanksgivings ago, and it was a big hit. Much less prep time and less hassle than candied yams, with no added sugars or preservatives, no casserole dish to wash, and fewer calories to boot. Best of all, my guests loved them.
I’ll bet if I were to take a poll and ask Americans what is their favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, the answer would mostly likely be mashed potatoes.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the turkey and stuffing too, but Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving without the mashed potatoes. Amazingly enough, there are people out there who don’t serve mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving because they’re “unhealthy” or “too fattening.” Sorry, but that’s just wrong in so many ways! I’m also thankful I’m not having my Thanksgiving dinner of their houses. If I found out my host or hostess wasn’t serving mashed potatoes I’d bring my own.
No one needs to be “phobic” about mashed potatoes. Especially on a special day like Thanksgiving. There are some really simple ways to make them more “healthy,” so you don’t have to deprive other people of their favorite part of the meal. So, here are my suggestions for dealing with Mashed Potato Phobia.
Keep the skin on the potato
Remember when we were kids and our parents told us that the skin was the best part of the potato? Well, they were right. Potato skins are high in vitamins and a good source of fiber. The skin also has the most flavor. So I leave some of the skin on when I peel my potatoes. Along with being healthier, it adds a wonderful flavor and texture to the finished mashed potatoes.
Use skim milk, 2% milk, chicken stock, or a combination thereof.
Chicken stock, along with the skins, adds even more flavor while cutting back on fat and calories. I would, however, recommend using at least little bit of milk along with it just to add creaminess and thickness.
Skip the margarine.
I think we all know by now that margarine is a trans fat, and trans fats are extremely unhealthy. I no longer allow margarine in my home. In fact, I consider trans fats to be poison. Nowadays I only use real butter. However, if you’re worried about cutting fat and calories, you can also skip the butter and use the chickenstock.
See? How simple was that? With just a few easy steps everyone can enjoy healthier, and more flavorful, mashed potatoes.