Rich and Hearty Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

Hands-down, there’s nothing I enjoy more in the fall than simple, delicious piping hot comfort foods like soups and stews,  My all-time favorite soup is Minestrone.  It’s guaranteed to warm up my taste-buds, body and soul on a cold day and it’s a treat my entire family enjoys.  When the smell the rich Italian spices and fresh vegetables simmering, it’s like a beacon calling them to the kitchen.

Rich & Hearty Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup #Recipe #SlowCookerMeals

Minestrone, in it’s basic sense, is an Italian vegetable soup, prepared in various styles depending upon the region or even country interpreting this dish. I’ve tasted Minestrone Soup prepared many ways, some with very surprising elements like a German style minestrone I sampled that was more like a tomato soup which incorporated a variety of vegetables, spaghetti noodles, parsley and three types of beans (kidney, white and garbanzo.)

The recipe I share with you today is one that I’ve adapted over the years to include the things I love best in a minestrone soup including fresh vegetables from my garden.  My secret for creating a well infused blend of flavors and soft, tender veggies without having to slave over the stove all day is to go hand-free and let my slow cooker do the work.  It’s so easy to prep and make this rich & hearty slow cooker Minestrone soup  and create the perfect warm up for a brisk fall day!

 

Quick and Easy Farm Fresh Applesauce Recipe

If you’ve recently been to the orchard, chances are you still have an over-abundance of fresh, ripe apples scattered around your kitchen begging to be enjoyed!  While many of my friends bake wonderful pies or simply enjoy the fruit on its own, I was surprised to find out how many didn’t use their red delights for enjoying fresh applesauce.  The common misunderstanding is that applesauce is difficult to make.  This simply isn’t true! With my quick and easy applesauce recipe, you will be serving up bowls full of apple goodness throughout the holiday season and beyond.

Quick and Easy Farm Fresh Applesauce Recipe

The best part of making your own applesauce is you can select organic apples, control the sugar used in each batch and ensure you have zero preservatives!

Quick and Easy Applesauce**

Ingredients:
16 cups apples, cored, peeled and chopped
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add water, lemon juice and apples. Cook, stirring occasionally until apples are tender. Remove from heat.

For chunky applesauce: In a large mixing bowl, add sugar and apples. Mash with a fork or masher until sugar is combined and chunky applesauce is formed.

For smooth applesauce: Using a food processor, puree apples. In a large mixing bowl, add puree and sugar, and mix until sugar is dissolved into applesauce.

Ladle applesauce into freezer containers, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Seal, label, and stack containers in freezer for storage.

**Excerpt from “Getting Laid: Everything You Need to Know About Raising Chickens, Gardening and Preserving — with Over 100 Recipes!” by Barb Webb (c) 2015

Quick and Easy Farm Fresh Applesauce Recipe

Do you enjoy farm fresh recipes? 

You’ll find over 100 quick, fresh and easy delights in Getting Laid: Everything You Need to Know About Raising Chickens, Gardening and Preserving — with Over 100 Recipes! along with farm to table expert advice on raising chickens, organic gardening, preservation methods, cooking and baking, DIY home decor and more!

GettingLaidFestivalWinner

Sea-Salted Sorghum Pecan Popcorn Balls

Since my husband was knee-high to a grasshopper, sorghum popcorn balls have ushered in fall.  Some call sorghum popcorn balls “old fashioned,” but here in the Appalachias, we call it standard Halloween fare.

Sea-Salted Sorghum Pecan Popcorn Balls

For generations, Kentucky farmers have been producing nutrient rich and naturally gluten free crops of sorghum and pressing it into a thick, versatile syrup that’s makes an ideal base for an amazing popcorn ball. Stacked up against their corn-syrup counterparts, the sorghum popcorn balls shine in complexity, clarity and superiority of flavor.

When you toss in a little sea salt and some pecans, the flavor-factor pops right off the popcorn charts… which is what we do each year.   I hope that Sea-Salted Sorghum Pecan Popcorn Balls will be a favorite recipe at your house.

Quick & Easy Bourbon Street Chicken

DSC06435 (2)Bourbon Street Chicken naturally has it’s roots steeped in Louisiana history, but is also a wildly popular dish that’s often found on buffets at several popular restaurants my family likes to enjoy.  We certainly love enjoying this flavorful dish but all the extra calories that accompany it in the buffet line are not quite as desirable!

My Quick & Easy Bourbon Street Chicken recipe is a result from tweaking and adapting a home skillet recipe that captures the same intensity of flavor and I have to say, rivals the best of the best we’ve ever had dining out.

Of course, using fresh ingredients and our favorite Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey certainly steps things up a bit!

Traditional Bourbon Street Chicken uses thigh or leg meat (dark meat) from the chicken. I prefer to use chicken breast (white meat) as it’s a leaner version, but feel free to swap in your preference.

 

Spiced Rum Banana Chips Recipe

Spiced Rum Banana ChipsDehydrating is an age-old popular method of preservation, but after adding a little bit of alcohol to the process, you may never look at dehydrated fruit the same way again.

The complexity of flavor and rich pop of sweet from the maple syrup, makes Spiced Rum Banana Chips a treat you’ll turn to time and time again.  Great for enjoying at home, serving at parties or for enjoying on-the-go.

No need to worry about a high alcohol content either, it will evaporate during the process but the amazing flavor will be left behind!

If only astronauts had it this good!

 

Farm Fresh Tex-Mex Breakfast Egg Bake

During a business trip to Texas, I fell in love with the variety of Tex-Mex omelets and skillet menu offerings for breakfast.  Every restaurant had a delectable offering and the traditional breakfast offerings started the day off with a delicious spicy kick.  When I returned home, I had to immediately add this Texan breakfast style to our home menu rotation!

The Tex-Mex Breakfast Egg Bake is super easy to make, but will easily impress your family or guests… and of course, your taste-buds, too!

For extra flavor, pour a little salsa over each slice before serving and serve with sour cream and avocado slices.

Garlic Dill Pickle Canning Recipe & Tips

Garlic Dill Pickles Canning

The fresh snap and crunch of a Garlic Dill Pickle is my favorite sandwich companion.  My family and guests seem to agree as every year I find myself having to can more and more!

There are oodles of great recipes and varieties for pickles, and while I certainly enjoy a sweet pickle, too, the savory and tang taste of a fresh garlic dill pickle is hard to beat.

Pickles are one of the easier items to can.  I find the key to good crunch is in selecting firm, ripe and blemish-free pickling cucumbers and adding a bit of Pickle Crisp.  Cutting the end off the spears can also help ensure a very crisp pickle as the tips often contain microbes that may cause the pickle to soften.

It also pays to wait.  As tempting as it may be to open up a jar and sample the goods right away, letting your pickles sit at least 1-2 weeks prior to opening delivers fabulous results.  Allowing them to sit for a bit lets the pickle full absorb the seasonings and you’ll get the full bang of flavor.

 

 

Moscato Wine Jelly

Traditional jammoscato wine jellys or jellies that contain alcohol typically have a fruit base, such as cranberry-wine jelly which combines cranberry juice with burgundy wine.  When you wish to have a pure wine base, the process is similar but you may have to rely on a fruit pectin to help the gelling process.  Though wine is made with grapes, it can be tricky to turn an alcohol into a jelly without achieving an overly soft set.

This recipe for Moscato Wine Jelly is one of my favorites to create each year and its always in high demand from my friends and neighbors.  It’s a lovely gift for the holidays or simply to keep around for a special treat.

Be sure to taste-test Moscato wines or to use your already established favorite in the recipe.  In other words, don’t skimp on the wine choice by grabbing any old bottle off the store shelf.  The results will generally be okay, but the taste will likely be run-of-the-mill boring.  Use a wine that appeals to you already and the results will be spectacular!

I love serving this jelly on special occasions.  It’s a fun treat for brunches or to place out at dessert time with whole grain crackers or shortbread cookies.

 

 

Five Smart Ways to Revise Your Family’s Diet

eat seasonal vegetables for a healthier dietDo you want to eat a more healthful diet, but your family isn’t quite on board? Or maybe your family is willing, but you aren’t sure what to do.

Where do you start? Does it have to be complicated, difficult, or expensive?

The good news is, you can improve your family’s dietary habits for the better and it does not have to be difficult or spendy. In fact, you’ll likely save money!

Try to incorporate at least one of these suggestions per week to help your family easily transition to the changes. In just a little over a month, you’ll have taken great strides towards improving the health quotient of your diet!

1. Replace all white with brown

This is a fairly simple first step to take to improve your family’s diet, but it has a big impact. You don’t have to do it all at once; for example, you can add a bit of whole wheat flour to white flour baked goods, then gradually increase the amount of whole grain flour. Try starting with whole grain pancakes, waffles, or pasta – these are hardly distinguishable from their white-flour cousins. Here is a partial list of “white” foods and their “brown” counterparts:
– White rice / Whole grain brown rice
– White flour / Whole wheat flour
– White sugar / Sucanat or raw, unfiltered honey (Sucanat is an unrefined, granulated form of sugar that still contains the micronutrients and minerals found in whole sugar cane)
– White bread / Whole grain bread

2. Go for fresh, whole, and organic food rather than pre-prepared

From grains to produce to meat, buying organic, whole foods and preparing them yourself is much healthier than consuming pre-prepared, packaged foods high in preservatives, sugar, and salt. It is also cheaper that paying for all that packaging – for example, a 3-lb. bag of organic potatoes costs less than a 1-lb. bag of potato chips.

3. Eat what’s in season

Here is where you can really save money. Seasonal foods are much cheaper than out-of-season foods, and you can stock up and freeze, dry or can produce when it’s in season. And some experts think the human body digests and processes in-season foods better.

4. Have fun and get the kids involved

Food and eating can be fun and should be enjoyable. Try a new dish as a side to a familiar dinner, and make it a game – everyone around the table can taste and give his or her impression. Let the kids choose foods where possible – take them to a local farm, or better yet, a pick-your-own farm where they can harvest the produce themselves. Connecting with food is a great way to make it enjoyable.

5. Meat as a side

Americans are used to assembling a meal around the meat, with the meat being the “main dish.” One of the ways to cut your food budget is to cut back on meat – it’s expensive stuff, whether you buy organic or not. Make meat the main dish maybe once a week, and during the rest of the week concentrate on having meat for only one meal a day. For example, if you are having organic chicken for dinner, make breakfast and lunch meatless that day. This is a good way to start working your way to having meat only once a week.

Replacing poultry and beef with fish is another way to incorporate healthy proteins into your family’s meals.

Don’t be too concerned about protein – meat is not the only source (beans and whole grains combined are also a complete protein, as are other food combinations), and Americans generally eat more protein than they really need.

Farm To Table: Greek Cooking Lessons from Norfolk Hellenic Women’s Club

Cooking Club Instructor, Nikki Webb, preparing grilled pita bread

Cooking Club Instructor, Nikki Webb, preparing grilled pita bread

Roasted chicken from a smoky grill infused with aromatic herbs and a sweet trace of cinnamon and honey greet you upon entering the AHEPA House. Guests gravitate towards the rows of steaming dishes and Greek women buzzing around the prep tables, chopping fresh vegetables, buttering filo and crumbling Feta. The choreography in the kitchen is as mesmerizing as the aromas.

Each year, during the Norfolk Greek Festival, the ladies of the Hellenic Women’s Club gather to share their devotion to preserve culinary traditions in “Cooking with the Greeks,” a make, bake and taste class featuring classic Greek recipes. The class is a popular attraction during the annual celebration held under one of Hampton Roads’ biggest tents on the grounds of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Norfolk, Virginia.

Helen Emmons, Cooking Class Co-Chairman and manager of Mike’s Pizza (Norfolk), said the group is very passionate about cooking, all of the women want to hold onto traditions and help others discover the joy of Greek cuisine. Hosting the class is a way for them to connect with the community and rediscover their own passions in the kitchen, though having cooks from various Greek regions is not always harmonious.

Helen Emmons, Cooking Club Co-Chairman

Helen Emmons, Cooking Club Co-Chairman

“Greek cooking is very regional,” said Emmons. “We often argue about the correct way to make a dish!”

The diversities are clear in the Hellenic Woman’s Club’s “Come Cook With Us*” cookbook where you’ll find multiple variations of common recipes including three versions of Souvlaki, a shish kebab style meat dish featured in the class.

The in-class version, Chicken Souvlaki, may not be correctly prepared by every region’s standards, but the tender morsels marinated for two days in a brine of olive oil, garlic, oregano, red wine vinegar and lemon juice were certainly delightfully Greek to the students.

“Good, quality extra-virgin olive oil is a crucial component of Greek cooking,” said Emmons. “And of course, we think olive oil from Greece is the best choice!”

One dish that was slightly “Americanized” for the class was the salad, which contained plenty of greens. The instructors explained that it’s difficult to find lettuce in Greece, so a traditional Greek Salad would be primarily tomatoes with maybe a little bit of greens tossed in. Most importantly, they agreed, a good Greek Salad must have quality Feta cheese and olives.

Spanakopita, Greek rice, stewed green beans and Chicken Souvlaki

Spanakopita, Greek rice, stewed green beans and Chicken Souvlaki

The preparation of Spanakopita, a Greek-style spinach pie, offered the class valuable insights on handling the paper-thin filo pastry. Instructors informed the class that the pastry may often be labeled “Strudel Pastry” at the grocery store and is most commonly found in the frozen section. When working with filo, a lightly damp towel should be kept over the unused sheets to keep them from drying out. Each layer of filo is ideally buttered as you are putting the layer in, not ahead of time.

Of all the culinary treats prepared, Kataifi was a crowd favorite. The classroom grew quiet, students were riveted as the instructor demonstrated how to press Kataifi pastry into the pan and layer it with a sweet nut mixture. The silence in the room was quickly broken, though, when samples of Kataifi arrived at the tables. “Oohs” and “ahhs” permeated the room with each flavorful bite of this delectable dessert.

Complementing the feast was a bottle of Moschofilero Erasmios (Kotrotsos Winery,) a dry robust white wine made from the Moschofilero grapes primarily grown in the Peloponnese region of Greece. Moschofilero Erasmios is commonly paired with fish or fruits and compliments Greek desserts quite well. Take good note of this tip: Judging from the clean plates and empty bottles at each table, the Moschofilero Erasmios wine was an equal crowd-pleaser to the Greek cuisine!

Lines outside the food tents, where Norfolk Greek Festival foods are in high demand.

Lines outside the food tents, where Norfolk Greek Festival foods are in high demand.

“We were a little surprised by how well our classes have been received by the community,” said Emmons. “I think we need more access in Norfolk for farm to table initiatives and bringing cooking back into the kitchen.”

As long as the community shows interest, Emmons said the Norfolk Hellenic Women’s Club will continue to share their traditions, tricks and love of Greek cuisine at the festival each year. As evidenced by the full classroom and crazy-long lines at the outdoor food tents, there’s no shortage of interest in Greek foods. We should expect to see “Cooking with the Greeks” return next year.

 

~
The Norfolk Greek Festival, is Tidewater’s oldest and largest ethnic festival. Hosted annually in May, it features traditional Greek cuisine, arts, crafts, entertainment and tours of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Find more information at http://norfolkgreekfestival.com

The Norfolk Hellenic Women’s Club is one of the oldest organizations in the area, recently celebrating its 100th anniversary.
*”Come Cook With Us: A Thesaurus of Greek Cooking” is available for purchase regionally through the Norfolk Hellenic Women’s Club.

 

Italian Garbanzo Bean Sun Dried Tomato Soup Recipe

Italian Sun Dried Tomato SoupI’m constantly seeking ideas for a hearty, warm meal with rich satisfying flavors.  Italian Garbanzo Bean Sun Dried Tomato Soup is simply all that and a burst of sunshine, brightening both my table and taste buds.

The key ingredient, Bella Sun Lucci Sun Dried Tomatoes is what gives this dish it’s extraordinary flavor and depth of character.  The hardest part is not eating all of the tomatoes from the jar before they make it to the soup!

Easy to prep and cook, you’ll have this rich meal on the table in no time.  It’s excellent on first try, but the next day, once the flavors had more time to mingle, the soup is even better on re-heat.

The original recipe provided to me by Bella Sun Luci is listed below.  While testing, I made a few modifications to suit my personal preference. I used only one can of garbanzo beans, added an additional clove of garlic, and omitted the onion and spinach (primarily because I didn’t have any spinach on hand.)  I also added a few chopped tomatoes as I had a Roma that needed to be use.  Still achieved amazing results and will be making this soup a regular addition to our menu.