Nov 2, 2011

Winter Minestrone Soup

Wintertime's chill makes soup a welcome meal for lunch or dinner. To add protein, add a quesadilla, grilled cheese, or if sticking with the Italian theme, bruchetta topped with cheese.

This classic Italian soup is packed with nutritious vegetables, like beans, zuchini, onion, tomatoes, carrots, pasta, potato and spices. Use vegetable broth for a vegetarian version of this warm and satisfying soup. I started out using the Olive Garden Minestrone Soup recipe in Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur, but ended up using dried beans, leaving out green beans and celery and adding potato and chicken broth.

Use two 15 oz. can each for red beans and white beans if you don't have time to use dried beans. Using dried beans is less expensive, and possibly (when considering added salt) more nutritious because you are in control of the quality and preparation your ingredients.

Winter Minestrone Soup


1 cup dried small red beans, sorted and rinsed
1 cup dried small white beans, sorted and rinsed
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup minced white onion (1 small onion)
1/2 cup zuchini, shredded
4 minced cloves garlic
4 cups chicken broth
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
2 medium potatoes, diced
1/2 cup shredded or diced carrot
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 12 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
3 cups hot water
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup leftover uncooked pasta


Put beans into a pot with 5 cups water. Heat to a boil, then cover and let sit for an hour or overnight. 

Rinse beans and prepare ingredients.

Heat olive oil over medium heat, and saute onions and garlic in a large pot, until onion turns translucent. 

Add broth, beans, can tomatoes, carrot spices, bay leaves,, and water. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 2 hours.  Add potatoes and cook 1/2 hour more. Remove bay leaves and add spinach and pasta. Cook another 20 minutes, or until desired soupy consistency.

Oct 20, 2011

Agua Fresca

I started working in a new office this year, and it's right around the corner from a little Mexican restaurant. Their specials always looked good, so one day I went in and ordered one. A drink came with it, and they offered me a liquid from one of the large jugs they had on ice, or gestured to the soda machine.

I asked about the liquids in the jugs, and was told one was watermelon, one was cantalope, and the third was cucumber. These sounded different but refreshing, so I ordered the watermelon. It was SO GOOD! It was light as lemonade and sweetened a little with sugar.

I didn't discover this until the end of the summer, but now I enjoy a refreshing drink every day I can manage. Maybe I'll get one later today. Watermelon and cantalope are my favorites. They seem easy to make. Try this recipe, from the food network. It seems like a whole cantalope should yeild more than a quart of agua fresca, but let me know what you think.

Agua Fresca (meaning Fresh Water)


  • 1 large cantaloupe or half a watermelon, seeded and diced (about 3 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 to 3 limes, juiced


This and other similar fruit drinks, which translate literally as "fresh water," are served all over Mexico and they're a cinch to replicate at home. The key is to strain the pulpy fruit to make a clearer liquid. Instead of melon, you could use strawberries, pineapple, or mango -- any fruit that is soft enough to puree.
Puree cantaloupe and pour through a fine sieve to eliminate pulp. In a pitcher, mix strained fruit puree with water and season with sugar and lime juice, to taste.

Sep 12, 2011

Butter and Sage Sauce

I remembered this recipe one day when I had no ingredients for dinner. I remembered that I'd planted sage out front. I had noodles, butter, a lemon tree in back and sage on the front porch. It was worth a shot.

 I tried it out and was a bit scared to burn the butter, but it turned out to be delicious! I've made it several times since and browned the butter a bit more, and it was even more delicious!

 Vegetables can easily be added to this, although I haven't done it yet. Mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, or spinach would all go well with this sauce.






Butter and Sage Sauce

Recipe courtesy Mario Batali



  • Pasta, of choice
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 8 sage leaves
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


While your pasta cooks, melt butter in a 12 to 14-inch saute pan and continue cooking until golden brown color ("noisette") appears in the thinnest liquid of the butter. Add sage leaves and remove from heat. Add lemon juice and set aside. Drain the pasta, but leaving some cooking water, and gently pour into saute pan and return to heat. Add the cheese, toss to coat and serve immediately. 

Aug 1, 2011

Tzatziki sauce

On our recent visit to Greece, we enjoyed the local yogurt dip, tzatziki, quite a bit! It was so garlicky and deliciously light with cucumbers. I brought some powdered mix home with me, mixed it with yogurt, and it was very good.

Then I found this recipe in Salon ezine, and I'm posting it in honor of my travel mate Laurena, who loved it the most. The method of draining the yogurt will give it a nice, creamy consistency. I hope you enjoy this light and nutritious summer dip!

Michelle's tzatziki sauce
Time: 2½ hours


You will need

  • 1 yard of cheesecloth
  • Rubber band
  • Dowel or chopstick
  • Large sauce pot
  • Mixing bowl


  • 4-lb. tub of yogurt
  • 1 large cucumber
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (pressed)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Dill to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Olive oil


  1. Spread cheesecloth on a flat surface.
  2. Remove top from yogurt container. Take container and turn it upside down onto cheesecloth. Lift away container. Wrap yogurt in cheesecloth. Seal top of cheesecloth with a rubber band.
  3. Stick chopstick or dowel through top of cheesecloth and suspend the bundle over an empty pot. Let drain for two hours.
  4. Meanwhile, grate cucumber and squeeze liquid out. Press garlic.
  5. After yogurt has drained, dump the resulting cheese into a bowl. Add garlic and vinegar. Stir.
  6. Add dill and salt to taste and drizzle with olive oil.
Serve with dolmas, falafels, or simply pita bread!

Jul 20, 2011

Pasta Caprese

Image from
This post is inspired by my online friend Marcia who wrote in a post that she has too many cherry tomatoes. Imagine that! Too much of something from a garden? Seems like it's always too little or too much.

This recipe was inspired by all the colorful little tomatoes now available at farmers markets and Trader Joe's, where I happen to shop. For about $3 you can get a little tub of little tomatoes. I wanted the flavor of a Caprese salad with the addition of a little pasta.

The recipe also was  influenced by the fact that it is warm much of the year out here in Southern California, and my husband likes me to use the oven as little as possible.

But browned cheese is just so delicious, that I came up with the compromise of using a high heat for a short period of time, like pizza. I added the Parmesan because it's so good browned!

This dish tries to include a good amount of vegetables. You can mix in some spinach or arugula, or serve the pasta on top, to increase the tasty vegetables in this dish.

I hope you enjoy!

Pasta Caprese


2 cups cherry tomatoes (or 2-3 lg tomatoes, chopped)
1/2 bag pennete (or similar) pasta (8 oz), cooked (can use leftover)
1  1/2 cup chopped mozzarella
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil
fresh basil, chopped or torn


Heat the oven to 450 degrees, F. Combine pasta, 1 cup cheese (reserve some), and tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, mix well. Put reserved cheese on top.

Put into oven as quickly as possible, turn heat down to 425 F and set the timer for 12 minutes.

When done, turn off the oven for the browning to finish.

Remove and cool slightly, top with basil.

Serve over arugula. Serves 2-4.


If you are starting with uncooked pasta, do not start the oven until the pasta has cooled slightly

Jun 2, 2011

Food pyramid replaced by 'MyPlate' icon emphasizing fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy

The US Department of Agriculture got rid of the Food Pyramid after all these years and many changes. Now they have made a pie chart into a dish (with a little drink on the side).

The message is the same, I think: For good health eat mostly fruits, vegetables, and grains. Plus a little protein.

They go into more detail in this article: Food pyramid replaced by 'MyPlate' icon emphasizing fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy from Science Daily.

For tips and more information about eating healthy, go the the government's new web page to address nutritional health:

For more info:

Jan 10, 2011

Spaghetti Carbonara

I love Spaghetti Carbonara. Not only is it made with two of my favorite foods: pasta and bacon. But it's also so easy; the heat of the noodles cooks the eggs and melts the cheese.

But most recipes I've found call for what seems like too many eggs or cream. While I was watching Mad Hungry one day, I noticed that her recipe called for only 3 eggs! I couldn't wait to try it.

So the next time I had nothing for dinner but some bacon and eggs, I pulled out the pasta (which I almost always have on hand) and looked for the recipe. I read the comments first, and decided to add garlic to Lucinda's recipe.

When I went to make it for dinner, though, it seemed like I should add some vegetables, or else I'd have to come up with something else to add to dinner! So I added small tomatoes and some spinach that I had on hand. The first time I made it, I put the spinach into the colander with the tomatoes, which resulted in much more wilted spinach than in the version below. If you like your spinach more wilted, just put it into the colander with the tomatoes.

The first time I made it I used the cheap parmesan that we had in the refrigerator. The second time I used better quality parmesan, and I have to say that it was delicious both ways, but better with the better parmesean.

There wasn't much left over from the first time I made it, so my husband tasted it, and promptly requested that I make it again! I have a feeling I'll be making it a lot more in the future.
You can make it with lots of other shapes of pasta. Hope you enjoy!


Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2 pound bacon, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 small cloves garlic
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 bag of spinach (4 cups?)


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook the spaghetti. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until just crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Skim off some of the fat. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Put the tomatoes into the colander, and then pour the pasta water over them to drain the pasta. Add to the bacon in the pan, add the spinach, and toss to combine

  2. Whisk together the eggs, cheese, garlic, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour into the pasta, and combine thoroughly. Add salt as desired.

Serve immediately with extra grated cheese, if desired.

Lucinda's Rustic Italian Kitchen

Adapted from Mad Hungry, September 2010
Read more at Spaghetti Carbonara - Martha Stewart