Friday, November 28, 2014

I love my enamel roaster and think that it gives a richer depth of flavor than a slow cooker. Mine is not a name brand, and was purchased at TJ Maxx for a "nice" price. There is only one small crack in the enamel, and I have had it for years. I read this today and wanted to share it with yall. No need to throw out a cast iron enamel pot, even with a chip on the inside!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pasta e Fagioli - Thankful for simplicity this holiday season

There are countless recipes swirling around this week for your holiday dinner -- I've been captivated by so many delicious options for Thanksgiving turkey roasting and side dishes that I can hardly decide!  Let's get realistic.  I love to cook, but I also have a life, and knowing that I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen for the holidays, I am all about simple recipes that will make wonderful meals and leftovers. It is my built-in break from all things turkey, dressing, and pies!

I referenced this recipe in the earlier Italian Wedding Soup post - We bought a bag of frozen Italian meatballs, fresh spinach, chicken stock, spaghetti sauce, and a few miscellaneous items and made two big pots of soup. The weather was cold, the soup was warm and comforting, and the time in the kitchen was minimal.  Clean up was simple, left overs were plentiful.  Just like most soup recipes - the flavors only get better!

Consider this time saving soup recipe to be your gift to yourself and your family this holiday season.  With just 15 minutes of kitchen investment, you'll have warm, healthy dinners and lunches to free you up to enjoy your time together!


1/2 Bag Frozen Italian Meatballs
1 lb Italian Sausage, removed from casing
Olive Oil
1 Onion, Chopped
1-2 Cans Dark Red Kidney Beans, Drained
2 Tablespoons Flour
1 Large Jar (45 oz) Spaghetti Sauce (I used a very basic store brand)
1 Box Pasta (I used mini rotini)
1/2 Bag Fresh Spinach
Grated Parmesan for topping (Optional)

Put 2 tablespoons of Olive oil in a large stockpot and turn on medium heat.  
Remove the Italian sausage from the casings, and brown it in the stock pot.  
Add the chopped onion halfway through browning the sausage, letting it cook until translucent.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour over the sausage and onion, and stir until incorporated.
Add the entire jar of spaghetti sauce.
Fill up the empty jar of spaghetti sauce with water and add to pot. 
Fill up spaghetti sauce jar with water again and add to pot.
Add meatballs (I like to cut them in half).
Drain Beans, and add to stock pot.
When pot comes to a boil, add box of pasta.
Stir and reduce heat to low.
Cook until pasta reaches desired tenderness.  
Add spinach to pot (no need to cut).
Turn off heat.
Put lid on pot.  
Give it a few minutes for the spinach to wilt, and serve when ready.  
Top with grated parmesan - you can probably tell from the photo below that I love freshly grated parmesan.  This was grated using a microplane - and is one of the few specialty kitchen items worth its valuable but small space in the kitchen. Microplanes were originally designed as a woodworking tool, and they are invaluable for grating hard cheeses and zesting citrus fruit.

Things to consider
I like my soups thick and hearty - add more water or vegetable stock for a "soupier" consistency.
This is one of my favorite recipes from my Mom, and she mentioned that the past few times she has made it with smaller pasta than the rotini - try Orzo or Ditali.
When making pasta soups, the leftovers may be a bit "condensed" (the pasta soaks up much of the broth) we always add a bit of water when reheating.
For a little variation - add one can of white beans and one can of red kidney beans (drained).
Would you like more vegetables? Consider adding chopped carrots and/or bell pepper when you sauté the onion.  
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season, and lots of warm soup!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Italian Wedding Soup

The night before our wedding anniversary, I made this Italian Wedding Soup.  It is light, but warm and comforting.  Just right for a cold night cuddled on the couch with my hubby.  I am pretty sure that I made the whole thing from start to finish in 20 minutes, and I'm not the speediest cook on the planet (or even in my family!)  But using a few shortcuts, that didn't take away from the flavor, made all of the difference and even led to a gorgeous Pasta e Fagioli with some of the leftover ingredients.  Plus - the combined expense for both soups was minimal and we are enjoying them and as always sharing with friends and family! So, we will start with the Italian Wedding Soup...

Italian Wedding Soup
3 Tablespoons of Butter
1 Carrot
1 Onion
2 Tablespoons of Flour
1 Container of Chicken Broth
3 Cups of Water
1 Bag of Frozen Italian Meatballs (we used Publix brand)
1 Cup Large (Israeli) Cous Cous or Pearl Pasta
1 Bag of Fresh Spinach
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, melt the butter over Medium - Low heat

While butter is melting, chop the carrot (it does not have to be peeled, as it will cook until soft)
Put the chopped carrot into the butter and sauté

While the carrot is cooking, chop the onion 

Add the chopped onion to the pot

Continue to sauté until the onion is a little bit translucent
Add the 2 Tablespoons of Flour to the pot and stir letting the flour absorb the butter and juices from the vegetables - takes about a minute (This helps to cook the raw taste out of the flour, and will ultimately thicken your soup to a velvety consistency)

Continue to stir while pouring in the container of Chicken Broth (You don't have chicken broth? Dissolve several chicken bouillon cubes in water as per directions and use it instead - be mindful of the salt content though)
Add the 3 cups of water and stir until the broth and water have "made friends"

Put a lid on the pot and let it simmer while you take 1/2 of the bag of meatballs and put them on a cutting board. (We've got BIG plans for the second half of the bag, so put it back in the freezer)
Cut the meatballs in half, or in quarters, or not at all if you choose.  
Place the meatballs in the pot with the broth and vegetables and stir.

If the water is not simmering, turn up the heat.  
When it reaches a gentle boil add 1 cup of the Large Cous Cous and reduce the heat to low.
Leaving the pot uncovered, stir occasionally for 10 minutes.

Now - take 1/2 the bag of fresh spinach and just dump it into the pot (Reserve the other half, because we have BIG plans for that one too!)
Stir the spinach into the soup

Put the lid on the pot
Turn off the heat
This is where the magic happens...wait about 5 minutes and remove the lid and stir.  

We served this with fresh apples and crudités (chopped raw or blanched vegetables) along with the fresh ranch dressing (see earlier post) and the most beautiful garlic bread that my husband made while we hung out in the kitchen and cooked together.  

Things to know...Those cute little Cous Cous will continue to draw liquid and the soup will get thick. If reheating for lunch the second day - be sure to add a little water.

Now...wait until you see what we did (lightning quickly) with the other half of the bag of meatballs and spinach!

Totally my Mamas recipe! Is she italian? Nope, but she is an amazing cook and this recipe is one of my simple favorites.  But you're gonna hafta' wait until I get done with the Italian Wedding Soup before I can start on the Pasta Fagioli, so hang on to those meatballs and spinach! 

This was just prior to being doused with shaved parmesan cheese!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Simple Additions...Caramelized Onions

Have you ever considered the army of employees it takes to support your favorite famous chef? I have, and that is how I console myself when I see intricate recipes and craft projects that would take a week of vacation, a small army of minions, and a trip to a foreign country for ingredients.  
In the real world, it is often the simple additions that can make a very basic dish very extraordinary!
I have several big projects going on and was looking for something for a quick but special dinner for my husband and I. My heart was set on grilled cheese sandwiches, but wanted to make them a bit more elegant. Finding some basic cheeses, and some really GOOD cheeses, I decided to "dress them up" a little bit with some caramelized onions.  
I wanted to share the recipe and process with you because it is simple, can be done ahead of time and kept in the fridge for impromptu elegance, and can be used in so many different ways! If you like caramelized onions, you may find yourself tripling this recipe and keeping them around in large quantities.  
"What am I going to add caramelized onions to?" you ask.  Everything, if I had my way...but here are a few more specific ideas;
Fajitas, Omelets, Hamburgers, Sandwiches, Baked Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes, Quesadillas, Vegetables, Pizza, Bruschetta, French Onion Dip, Steak, Chicken, turkey, dressing...the list is pretty endless! Look for Spoon of Hearts on Facebook and let's talk about what dishes you "upgraded" with these gorgeous caramelized onions...

Caramelized Onions

1 Medium Onion
1 Tablespoon of Butter
1/2 Tablespoon of Sugar
2 Tablespoons of Vinegar
1 Tablespoon of Water
Salt and Pepper to taste

Take Medium Onion

Cut in half, then in 1/4 inch slices

Melt butter in pan over Medium heat (I use 4 setting on my gas stove) until bubbly

Add onion to pan and sauté (stir) until translucent, even a little brown

Sprinkle with the sugar and add the vinegar (I used white wine vinegar, but if you want them richer, balsamic works great, and in a pinch Apple Cider Vinegar works well too). There will be a bit of steam, but continue to stir until it melds together.

Add 1 Tablespoon of water and cook until they are the consistentcy you are looking for.  I like for them to still be recognizable as onions, but you can go as far as to cook them until they are completely soft.  

Add a pinch of salt to taste at the end, if you add it earlier it can affect the texture.  

We added them to grilled cheese sandwiches and juxtaposed with some name brand cheddar slices, and a really good french cheese called "Port Salut" - the result was rich, cheesy, and hit all of the happy taste buds! (It didn't hurt that it is Honeycrisp apple season, and with apple slices beside the sandwiches, we had lots of laughs about childhood grilled cheese lunches!)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Potato Soup ... Bowl of Comfort with Ease

The days get shorter, the breezes get colder, and there is nothing more warm and comforting than a bowl of potato soup at the end of a long day. When you feel like your day has been shorted an hour, it is hard to get excited about taking the time to cook dinner. This recipe is simple, and if you have the right leftovers, can be made quickly. This classic is even better if you make a big pot and enjoy the leftovers through the week, as the flavors meld and deepen.
Before I get into the basic recipe, here are a few things to keep in mind:

If you have leftover baked potatoes, they are awesome to use in this recipe. The skins generally peel right off, or you can leave them on, whatever your preference.

You can peel and boil the potatoes, but baked ones aren't as likely to dissolve in the soup. I like potato soup to be chunky; however, there are some who prefer to puree it for a velvety texture.

If you have picky eaters, make the basic potato soup, and serve it with toppings -- cheddar cheese, bacon, sour cream, chives, cubed ham, scallions, fresh black pepper, etc.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and this recipe is a great way to use leftover ham!

Get creative ... some great variations to this soup include cheddar cheese, onion, garlic, and corn.



Approximately 3 Cups Baked Potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 Tablespoons of Butter
3 Tablespoons of Flour
2 Cups of Chicken Stock (OR 1 Large Chicken Bouillon Cube dissolved in 2 cups of water)
2 Cups of Milk (I used 2%)
1 Can of Corn (Optional)
Shredded Cheddar (Use as a topping or melt into the soup)
Ham or Bacon (Use as a topping or add to the soup for a richer flavor and more protein)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Baking the potatoes - If you don't have leftover baked potatoes, you can bake them in the microwave quickly. Bake them in the oven for a richer flavor. I had a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes and made mashed potatoes from half of them and used the remainder in this soup. If you haven't used Yukon Gold Potatoes, you have to try them! They have a buttery flavor and gorgeous texture, not to mention thin skins, which is nice if you decide to leave them on for any recipe.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  
Line the bottom of a baking sheet with tinfoil or parchment paper. 
Rub the outside of the potatoes with olive oil and place on the baking sheet. 

Bake for 15 minutes, and then turn them over and bake for 15 minutes more.  At this point, check them and continue baking until they soften and "yield to the touch."

Let the potatoes cool, and at this point, you can even refrigerate them for several days.  

Making the soup - In a large pot, melt the 3 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat.
When the butter is bubbly, add the 3 Tablespoons of flour to make a "roux." Keep stirring after adding the flour until the butter and flour are combined.
Reduce heat to low.

Add the 2 cups of chicken stock or chicken bouillon dissolved in 2 cups of water, continuing to stir.
Add the 2 cups of milk, continuing to stir.
(Stirring is important here - you want the ingredients to combine and dissolve anything clinging to the bottom of the pot)
After about a minute stirring it over low heat, increase the heat a bit until you see the mixture thicken a bit.
(Now is the time to celebrate - you just mastered the basic white sauce which can be transformed into about a zillion things, including Alfredo sauce!)

Remove the skins from the potatoes and cut them into bite sized pieces. Generally, I quarter them and then peel them like a banana, cutting each quarter into small chunks.  
Add the potatoes to the soup.

Here is where you have to decide what you'd like to add, and what to use as a topping. I added some leftover ham - cubed - and served it with shredded sharp cheddar and a sprinkle of chives. (See notes above)
Add a can of corn (drained) if desired for a light crunch. 
Reduce the heat to low, and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. This allows the potatoes to soften, and the ham (if added) to season the soup.  

Words of wisdom - If the soup is a bit thick, or you like a thinner consistency, add a bit of milk and/or chicken stock to thin it.  
I would have to use all caps and 5 exclamation points to tell you how much I think that baking anything on parchment makes a big difference ... you should try it - at least once!
This soup is great left over, and the flavors only get better!
We often make this when we are having friends over for chili - you can use many of the same toppings and it makes for a nice alternative for those who don't like spicy food.