Hearty Lentil Minestrone

I’m not sure if any of you have the same problem that I do, but seem to always wind up with bits and pieces of vegetables, pasta, grains, etc, lying around my refrigerator and pantry after I’ve used up a portion for a recipe. One of my ongoing goals is the fight against food waste… I’m better than I used to be, but I still tend to wind up with veggies that go bad, or jars with small amounts of grains in my pantry that sit there for months. Not only wasteful, but bad for my budget as well.  This soup is the perfect solution. Not only is it delicious, but it is perfect to use up some of those odds and ends! This recipe comes from one of my new favorite cookbooks Love Real Food. Written by the author of the fabulous vegetarian food blog “Cookie and Kate”, it’s one of those cookbooks that I flipped through and wanted to make all the recipes immediately. I’ve tried several so far, and have been impressed with all of them. Not only are they delicious, they are healthy as well!

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I really try hard to always make a healthy lunch to bring to work during the week, and especially in the colder months, soups are the perfect thing. They last all week, are on the healthier side, are cozy and comforting, and are one of those meals that seem to improve as the days go by. Also, seeing as Ron doesn’t like soups or stews, making them for myself for lunch during the week is the perfect way to satisfy my pretty much daily soup craving.

Hearty Lentil Minestrone

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup butternut squash, chopped (or other seasonal veggies)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, with juices
3/4 cup lentils (green or brown)
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pasta (orecchiette, elbow or shell), whole wheat or regular
1 15-oz can great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups chopped Kale, curly or lacinato (aka Tuscan or Dinosaur), ribs removed
2 teaspoons lemon juice, more to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan (omit if Vegan)

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven (or soup pot), over medium heat, until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, and a pinch of salt, and cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the veggies are softened.
  2. Add the butternut squash, garlic, oregano and thyme, and cook for a couple of minutes until you can smell the garlic and herbs, stirring often. Then add the water, vegetable broth, tomatoes with their juices, lentils, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring the soup to a boil over medium high, and once boiling, lower to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. While simmering, cover partially with a lid.
  3. Uncover pot, and add the kale, pasta, and beans. Simmer for another 20 minutes until the lentils are tender, and the pasta is al dente.
  4. Turn off heat, and remove the bay leaves. Add the lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice if desired. Serve with some freshly grated parmesan if you’d like!

Source: Love Real Food by Kathryne Taylor

Notes:

This soup can be varied in so many ways to make use of what you have in your fridge/pantry. Don’t have great northern beans, use cannellini or chickpeas! Don’t have butternut squash? Use potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, summer squash, etc. You could throw in some fresh tomatoes along with the canned, or corn, or peas if you want. If you don’t have kale, I bet Swiss chard or spinach would be a good substitute. Don’t have lemons? I bet a couple teaspoons of red wine vinegar would work instead. Seriously, this soup is so versatile!

 

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Carrot Cupcakes with Molasses-Cream Cheese Frosting

My mom’s birthday was a little less than a month ago, and to celebrate we had a small family gathering at my parent’s house. I was in charge of dessert! I immediately thought of carrot cake when I started thinking about what I wanted to bring, because my mom is a fan of such cakes as carrot and applesauce cake. The first cake I thought about making was a layered carrot cake that I remembered seeing in an issue of Cook’s Country last year, but since not everyone in my family is a fan of carrot cake, I wanted something that would be a little smaller scale. When perusing one of my favorite cookbooks (Gourmet Today) for ideas I came across these cupcakes, and my mind was made up right then and there. Having not only shredded carrots, but also toasted walnuts and coconut, these cupcakes were really delicious and interesting. The coconut adds a subtle flavor, and because the walnuts are finely chopped, they don’t intrude in the cupcakes, but lend a nice nutty note. The molasses-cream cheese frosting complemented these perfectly, and added even more interest. These would be great with a classic cream cheese frosting as well, but I loved the flavor that the molasses added- I love molasses so much I could eat it by the spoonful! 

Carrot Cupcakes with Molasses-Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot Cupcakes

Makes 12 Cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup finely shredded carrots (about 4-5 medium)

1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped and lightly toasted*

1/2 cup sweetened, flaked coconut, lightly toasted**

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

2. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg to a medium bowl, and whisk to combine. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the oil-sugar mixture, and stir together with a wooden spoon until combined. Add the carrots, walnuts, and coconut and stir until just combined.

3. Divide the batter evenly in the muffin tin. The batter will fill them up about 3/4 of the way. (I like to use a large cookie scoop when placing the batter in the tins). Bake about 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick placed into a cupcake comes out cleanly. Remove the cupcake from the tin, and let cool completely on a wire rack. Frost when completely cool.

*To toast walnuts, spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree preheated oven for 5-15 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic.

**To toast coconut, spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden.

Molasses-Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes

Ingredients:

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened

1 Tbsp molasses (not robust)

2 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Directions:

1. Place all ingredients into a medium bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon until well combined, and fluffy.

Source: Gourmet Today

By the way, the other dessert I brought was a chocolate-stout bundt cake (using this recipe, and baking at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes- from Smitten Kitchen)

Chocolate-Stout Bundt Cake

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

I bet that chicken soup is a comfort food for a huge number of people out there, and rightfully so in my opinion.  It’s something many of us associate with childhood, and our mothers. It’s something I crave in the winter, and especially when I’m under the weather. I made this soup a few weeks ago when I was nursing a seemingly never-ending cold. One that seems to have finally gone away- I’d like to attribute that to this soup! This is my favorite quick and easy version of chicken soup. It is from the wonderful cookbook Fresh Flavor Fast, which comes from the people over at Everyday Food, one of my most favorite cooking magazines that unfortunately is no longer a standalone magazine. That magazine, this cookbook, and the other two in this series- Great Food Fast and Everyday Food: Light, I seem to turn to again and again for reliable and delicious weeknight meals. This soup comes together relatively quickly, uses some shortcuts such as store-bought chicken broth, but cooks in such a way that imparts it with so much flavor. Sauteing the onions and poaching the chicken in the chicken broth really work to make this soup so flavorful.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
32-oz low-sodium chicken broth
2/3 cup wild-rice blend
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8 oz), or 8 oz boneless skinless chicken breast 
4 carrots, coarsely chopped
4 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
Directions:
1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot, preferably a dutch oven. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 3-5 minutes, until onion starts to soften, stirring occasionally. Add chicken broth, rice, and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 35 minutes.
2. Add chicken, carrots, and celery. Return soup to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Remove the chicken, and shred.
3. Return the shredded chicken to the pot, and season soup to taste with salt and pepper.