Thursday, December 27, 2012

sausage lentil soup

i hope that everyone had a great Christmas!  we had a full and wonderful holiday - and have already taken down our decorations!  when you live in an efficiency, the pull of having a few square feet of floor space back can outweigh nostalgia.  ;-)

and now for a soup!  this was my "first" soup to make as an adult.  a friend of mine gave me a copy of the better homes and gardens cookbook for Christmas one year, and it has since become my favorite cookbook.  the recipe below, primarily based off of one from that cookbook, is especially beloved by me because it nursed me through mono - it did!  i swapped in spinach and turkey sausage, and it was the only thing i ate for two and a half weeks.  love it!!

note 1: the picture below shows carrots and celery as the veggies includes; however, i also LOVE this soup with spinach.  frozen works just fine!  also, like a lot of soups, it's very forgiving - i often add 50%-100% more vegetables than the recipe calls for, simply because i have them on hand and want to use them up.  go crazy!!  ;-)

note 2: mike always wants beef sausage, so i usually use that - however, i found that turkey sausage works extremely well with this soup.  sometimes i use half beef, half turkey, and when i want to go healthy (like when i had mono!), i use turkey.  it feels so gentle to digest.

note 3: cayenne pepper - what a wonderful spice!  add a wee bit, and suddenly you have an interesting soup no matter what else you add!  ;-)  i often add more than the 1/2 teaspoon listed below; if you choose to add more, go slow!  i've learned that it is easy to go too spicy by adding one 1/4 teaspoon too many.  


sausage lentil soup

6 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 T minced garlic
1 pound of sausage
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 t salt

1.  saute garlic and onion in large pot, until the onions are clear.
2.  add chicken stock and vegetables to the pot; bring to a simmer.  cook 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
3.  add sausage, lentils, cayenne pepper, and salt; heat through.

this recipe freezes and microwaves very well.  as a tip re: freezing, if you wait more than 2 days to freeze after making, i found that the taste isn't quite as good.

typing this out makes me want to make a batch tonight - enjoy!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

chicken noodle soup "from scratch"

welcome to thursday!  our first soup up is chicken noodle.  after reading lots of reviews, i settled on using this recipe as my base.  the picture above is also from that recipe - my soup ended up looking very similar to it.

i'll start with my notes before jumping into the recipe itself, as it has been updated per these notes.  always incorporate the things you've learned, right??

overall review: mike and i love this soup.  our "raters" at our soup night gave it very good reviews.  it's so simple that i would be hesitant to serve it to company, but it will be forever on my recipe rotation from now on!  mike is always excited when i pull it out for dinner, or for his lunch.  yay!  :-)

note 1: i love, love, love making stock.  a friend encouraged me to try it, and see for myself how easy it is - and after the first time, i'm a believer!  it's free (you use things you would have otherwise thrown away), and better for you than canned broth.  that being said, if stock isn't on your radar right now, just swap it out for broth!

note 2: i didn't add any oil or salt to soup, and didn't miss them.  however, many of the recipes i perused would have recommended adding 1 teaspoon oil and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt to a recipe like this.

note 3: i didn't cook my noodles before adding them to the soup, and i so wish i had.  they sopped up so much of the broth as they cooked, that the consistency was more like a casserole than a soup.  mike and i have still gobbled it down like crazy, but that is the last time i will put uncooked noodles into a soup!

note 4: i used a whole rotisserie chicken.  i KNOW.  i read in a review that you do this instead of chicken breast, for extra flavor, and diversity of meat.  the reviewer recommended dropping the whole thing in for a bit, so that the skin could give the soup its flavor, before chopping it up.  it was a hassle, but i do think that it added a lovely bit of depth to the soup's flavor.  if this sounds like a pain to you, swap the rotisserie chicken with 3 cups of diced, cooked chicken breast.

without further ado, here's the recipe!

chicken noodle soup "from scratch"

2 1/2 cups of wide egg noodles
12 cups of chicken stock/broth
1 teaspoon basil
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 cup chopped celery
1 1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup corn starch
14 cup water
1 rotisserie chicken

1.  cook egg noodles per bag's instructions; set aside.
2.  saute onions and garlic in large pot.  once the onion is clear, add the stock, basil, bay leaves, and pepper; bring to a boil.
3.  add the celery, carrots, and rotisserie chicken to the stock, and reduce heat.  cook ~15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
4.  remove the rotisserie chicken from the stock and dice; i threw away the skin.  save your bones for future stock!!  ;-)  toss the meat back into the soup.
5.  mix the corn starch and water together, and gradually add to the soup.
6.  stir in the noodles.

this recipe microwaves well.  pull it out for lunch during a grouchy workweek, or when the weather is just too darn cold outside.  i do not, however, recommend freezing it - the noodles get a little soggy.  enjoy!!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

thursday is soup day!

i love making soups.  they are comforting and cheap, easy to freeze, perfect for recipe doubling.  which means my sunday nights consist of me pulling a bag out of the freezer, rather than panicking over what i'll feed mike for lunch that week.  valuable stuff!

so i found a bunch of soup recipes to test, and we invited several of our friends over to test them out - how else do you try new recipes??  naturally, our friends were asked to rate the recipes:

it was so much fun!!

so over the next several thursdays, i'll post a soup recipes here on my blog, complete with any applicable notes/critique/praise.  be forewarned, at least one of the recipes was a non-repeat!  keeping it real.  ;-)

for today, i'll give you a very valuable link.  i made 4 batches of this pho recipe this past weekend.  it's fabulous!!  not so fabulous that we won't go out for pho on occasion, but it's certainly our current favorite soup.  notes on this recipe:
- best part: you can do it in your crockpot.  
- second best part: you can buy a spice pack for pho at an asian market.  so for those of us out there who don't have star anise + other obscure spices lying around, this is a sweet cheat!  one spice pack costs about $1, and an asian market is one of the best places to pick up beef bones anyway.  now that i know we love this recipe, i plan to stock up on all those obscure spices - but this is a great option for a first try.
- tip #1: be careful not to add too much water to your crockpot - i had  too much water in my water-bones ratio, and my broth wasn't strong enough.  if this happens to you, pick up some pho bullion at an asian market - just add a little bit at a time til it's perfect!
- tip #2: buy steak sub beef instead of trying to do the super-thin slices yourself.
- other thoughts: since we now know we love this recipe, we also bought some sriracha (hot sauce), hoisin sauce (sweet), as well as pho bowls at our asian market.  the bowls were less than $7 each, and now we can have proper servings of this yummy broth without using my serving bowls.  ;-)  also, having the sriracha and hoisin sauce on hand really made it feel closer to restaurant-quality pho.

if you have any questions, or need some encouragement to give this recipe a try, leave me a comment!  youuuuu can dooooo it!!!  ;-)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Messina, Sicily

in a flurry of craziness, half of the group boarded a bus to head to the ship.  our eyes drank in the italian scenery, and several of us tested our cameras' capabilities of capturing shots while inside a car going 60+ mph.  below is our best one:

with mike on the other side of the camera, how could i not smile besottedly??  ;-)

 we came into a small town, and dropped our speed significantly.  at first, we couldn't quite see the ships, but could enjoy the many different national flags:

THE WATER!!!!  it's amazing our bus didn't tip, with all of us wanting a sight of the mediterranean 

we managed to board the ship safely - everyone ended up scattered about because of the queuing system.  muv and dad got into a priority line, which the rest of us were excluded from.  eli travels a lot from work, and thus usually benefits from first-class treatment; he was adorably rattled and confused to be lumped with the rest of us in regular lines.

there are still moments when i'm happily surprised to remember that mike and i are married......when we were dating and engaged, we would sign in for any registration separately.  now, when he signs in, i stand next to him as his wife - i am mrs. michael decarlo.  this was one of those moments when i remembered afresh, that for the rest of our days, i get to stand next to him.  i don't have any pictures, but there was a very happy girl holding tightly to her husband's hand in that port that afternoon.

monday morning, we docked in messina, sicily.  dad had arranged for an excellent tour guide to meet us at the port, with a driver. he was fascinating!  i believe he used to be a professor; his manner of explaining things to a group certainly was polished and easy to follow.

below are pictures from our drive up to mt. etna:

beautiful buildings in messina as we drove through:

 i love taking pictures of people taking pictures - a quirk of mine!!  i think anita's eyes were focused inside the bus for less than 5 minutes of the trip. ;-)




we stopped about halfway up the mountain to stretch our legs, and view the memorial below to mary, which was built to thank her for stopping the lava.  while i do not credit mary for this, it was a beautiful statue, especially surrounded by so much lush green.

 nearby the statue was a stand selling honey - wonderful honey!!  there were several different flavors - you cannot understand how much flavor can add to honey til you've had it.  initially, i think our group wanted to buy the entire was so, so very good!  warmed from the sun, refreshing, deep, wonderful flavors.  however, future interviews with customs floated through our minds, and limited our purchases.

with our spirits lifted by the honey, our group set out to explore!

 here dad is trying to pretend that he doesn't just adore his son-in-law! mike, muv and i weren't thrown off at all.  ;-)

in the time it took me to focus the camera on mike and dad, a third of our group was a quarter mile away, perched on rocks.  here are eli and jessi - close to each other, but independent.  i think standing on your own rock lends to independence.

remember this picture, as it is one of the few i have of anita sans camera:


muv, resting and enjoying everyone's laughter:

cuddles with my favorite guy? yes, please!!

 i love this picture. the stone is so part of the countryside.

 if i recall correctly, mike and liz and tony were slightly reluctant to come back to the bus.  can you blame them?  look at that view!!

peter is not a fan of having his picture taken.  jackie and i had to coax him for this shot - though, as usual, jackie's sass steals the show!

just peter - love, love him!

muv and mike:

none of us wanted to re-board the bus.  isn't it funny - we were all so excited to see mt. etna, but it's hard to stop savoring any single part of the experience.

however, re-board we did!  and we made it to the top.  below are views from the little town at the top of mt. etna:



 sometimes, i think muv must be part mary poppins - i swear her purse has magic qualities!  i'm not sure exactly where her umbrella came from, but given the bright sun, it was a "brilliant" idea.  isn't she dear, chilling there?

walking towards the crater, showing a little leg.....there are so few non-awkward poses when you're posing alone!

now, i know you'll be skeptical of this - but i was clinging to mike here because of necessity rather than purely preference!  it was so windy up there!!

this was hilarious.  eli and tony sprinted down into the bottom of the crater - one minute, we were all up around the edge, and the next minute, there was a cloud of dust as they raced each other to the bottom.  if you know tony, this doesn't surprise you at all.  but eli is a little more likely to watch other peoples' craziness than to dive right in - seeing him so enthralled made me laugh from happiness!!

here they are, the conquerors of.....the crater.

the king(s)!!!

as the rest of the group followed eli and tony, dad asked our tour guide if most of his groups did this.  staring at the dust we were all kicking up, he replied, no - this is the first time a group has done this.

i couldn't stop taking pictures of eli - he was so full of spunk!

while the rest of us were inside the crater, peter chilled at the furthest edge, looking down at us in a rather gargoyle manner:

look at that view!!  we were so blessed with our weather that day!  what a sky!

 me at the edge of the crater, looking down into the valley, feeling the wind:

 and now, clinging again to my mike - just for safety, you understand.

i believe this was that age-old game of "let's see how close we can get to the edge before we fall":

the sensation of power from that crater was exhilarating.  to think of lava coming from that place was humbling; now, we could stand there.  the wind and view made me feel as though every sense was experiencing it - the feel of the fine lava dust, the sight of the valley before us, the sound of the wind as it tried to push us over, the fresh smell of mountain air, the taste of excitement.  and if you would like to tell me that you can't taste excitement, then my only response can be that if you were up there, you would have been able to, too.

now, i have to apologize for the next picture.  there was a little cafe next to the crater - we just needed a light lunch because we would be having dinner on the ship in a few hours.  i ordered the pistachio ravioli, and had no idea what i was about to experience.  it was so gorgeously amazing, i devoured it before our camera could snap a picture.  what you see below is just the part that i was too self-conscious to lick from the plate.....believe me when i say that you are looking at sauce that used to cover

i love him.  i wish we could go back to mt. etna every year, just to see eli having such fun!!

good bye, messina.  we so, so enjoyed you!!