Tag Archives: Vegetables

Book Club: Vegetable Soup On A Foggy, Crisp Night

Wednesday night was book club, with an evening of dense fog and a light drizzle after a day of welcome rain.  I always bring something homemade to our gatherings, and try to make it gluten and dairy-free for one of our members. After taking stock of what was in the house, I discovered that I had everything to make a vegetable soup – perfect for our mountain weather! While it takes some cooking time, it is easy to put this soup together. It is chock full of fresh vegetables (carrots, onion, celery, zucchini, yellow squash, snap peas) and has a delicious, rich and chunky tomato broth. Typically, cooked pasta is added to vegetable soup, but I used garbanzo beans (chickpeas) because of their great flavor and nutritional value – they were a big hit. This is a versatile recipe and even better with spinach; had there been some on hand it would be in the soup. Other substitutions are frozen vegetables, or angel hair or ditalini pasta (Mary and Nada enjoyed their soup with a bed of angel hair pasta). A flavor secret: the longer cooking time allows for a parmesan rind to melt into the soup, giving it a rich deep base. This batch was sans the cheese rind for Sybil, and grated parmesan cheese was served on the side.

What books have we been reading, you ask? Wednesday night we discussed “Someone Knows My Name” by Lawrence Hill, which was September’s selection. And for October, we are reading “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.

For more information about these thought-provoking reads, click on each image.

One of the benefits of being in the kitchen: The cook always gets to do a taste test!

And of course I had to make something crispy to top the soup – a whole grain boule from our freezer was the perfect candidate for some homemade croutons. They are so much better than store-bought and only take a few minutes to make. Any type of bread will do and I use my trusty toaster oven for the task, but the broiler will work just as well. If the bread is frozen and you have a paper sandwich bag, it can be harmlessly defrosted in the microwave (see recipe for details). For salads, the croutons are even better if you brush the bread with your favorite vinaigrette recipe – the same as what you are using to dress the salad. Along with some freshly grated parmesan cheese, the croutons are a delectable garnish.

What good books have you read lately? We’re always looking for  interesting novels to read, so please leave a comment and pass on any of your favorites. I would love to hear your thoughts. I am hosting book club next month and look forward to sharing the love, direct from my kitchen!

Eat well and share the love!

Vegetable Soup with Homemade Croutons (print recipe)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
For Book Club: Makes enough for 6 servings, or 12 small servings
Recipe can be reduced by half for a smaller portion

Olive oil
½ medium sweet onion, diced into ¼ inch pieces
1 large zucchini, diced
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Large handful of sugar snap peas, chopped
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence OR Italian herbs
Fresh ground pepper
1 medium garlic clove, minced
28 oz. can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
5 cups vegetable broth (or water)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and beans well rinsed
1 small rind of Parmigiano Reggiano, or Parmesan (substitute: 2-inch piece of parmesan)
4 to 5 thick slices of any good bread*
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
Homemade Croutons
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

In a 6-quart Dutch oven, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat over medium-low heat. Add the vegetables along with the herbs de Provence, ¾ teaspoon salt and a good pinch of pepper; stir well, cover pot with the lid and sauté for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are soft.

Add the minced garlic, stir well and let cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, vegetable broth (or water) and garbanzo beans along with ¾ teaspoon salt, another good pinch of pepper and the parmesan rind or piece of cheese. Increase heat to medium and let simmer gently, uncovered, for another 1 to 1½ hours.

Croutons: Brush both sides of bread with olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, toast or broil until both sides are lightly golden. Rub one side with the garlic clove and dust both sides with grated parmesan cheese. Return slices to toaster oven or broiler and toast again until both sides are golden brown, let cool slightly and cut into bite-size pieces.

Serve the vegetable soup hot, and garnish with a few croutons and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

* Croutons – To defrost frozen bread in the microwave: Place bread in a paper sandwich bag, fold down top to close and microwave (on half power) for 1 minute increments until just starting to defrost, about 2 minutes for a whole boule. Use a serrated knife to cut into slices.

  • More vegetables to add, fresh or frozen: Bell Pepper (red, yellow or orange), Green or Yellow Green Beans, Steamed or Blanched Cauliflower florets, Spinach (add with liquids).

Last Sunday we took a drive to see the changing colors of Fall……. Murphy and I followed in the SUV (I imagined it was a Porsche 911 while driving through the curvy mountain roads, keeping up with the bikes) while David and friends rode their motorcycles through some of Colorado’s high passes. It’s beautiful here!

Zuppa: Minestrone with Gremolata Parmesan Croutons

With some cold weather (we have snow in the forecast tonight!) settling into our area, it’s the perfect time to make a heartwarming soup.  Minestrone is a classic Italian soup and has many variations, usually made with meat, vegetables and pasta.  This recipe is easy to put together and has tons of homemade flavors.  It starts with sweet Italian sausage and is built with sautéed onions, carrots and celery, and then fire-roasted canned tomatoes, beef stock, a bay leaf and a parmesan rind (see my tips & hints) are added for a rich, deep flavored broth.  It simmers for 45 minutes to three hours – the longer the better, which also gives the parmesan rind more time to melt into the soup.  Ditalini pasta (small tubes), cannellini beans, green beans and baby spinach finish off this rich and satisfying soup.  In my book, a savory crouton is a great way to dress up a bowl of soup; a flavorful gremolata mixture makes a delicious crouton topping to enjoy with the minestrone.  

The croutons are simple to make with just a few ingredients.  A gremolata is traditionally made with parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon zest; I have added parmesan cheese to give a little crispy crust when the croutons are toasted. Slices of bread are lightly toasted, a garlic clove is rubbed on the bread, it’s topped with the gremolata and toasted until lightly golden.  For a pre-dinner nosh another time, you could enjoy these croutons on their own (or with some good prosciutto, thinly sliced) with a glass of your favorite wine, or cocktail. 

If you prefer, a flavorful turkey sausage can be substituted for the Italian sausage.  And if you are gluten-free, omit the pasta.  I hope your dinner table will soon include some heartwarming bowls of minestrone soup and unforgettable croutons.  Cheers.

Eat well and share the love!

Minestrone with Gremolata Parmesan Croutons
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, plus leftovers

8 ounces ground sweet Italian sausage
½ cup diced sweet yellow onion (about ½ small onion)
½ cup diced carrot (about 1 large)
½ cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
1 clove garlic, minced
(1) 14.5 oz. can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes
4 to 6 cups low-sodium beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan rind
1/3 cup uncooked ditalini pasta (small tubes)
1 cup packed baby spinach leaves
1 can of cannellini (white northern) beans, drained
   and rinsed
10 to 15 small green beans, cut into ¼ inch pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Gremolata & Croutons
4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese, plus some for topping
Pinch of kosher salt
5 to 6 grinds of fresh-cracked pepper
4 to 5 slices of French bread (or similar), cut on the diagonal
1 clove garlic, peeled

In a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven (or medium stock pot), heat to medium and add a few drizzles of olive oil so the sausage won’t stick to the pan.  Add the sausage and cook until crumbled and browned, about 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.  Wipe out the pan. 

Return heat to medium-low and add 2 tablespoon olive oil.  Add the onions, celery and carrots with ½ teaspoon salt and 1/16 teaspoon of fresh-cracked pepper; sauté, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and tender – about 20 to 25 minutes.  Add the garlic and let cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  Add the canned tomatoes, 4 cups beef stock, the bay leaf and the parmesan rind. Let simmer on low heat for 45 minutes to 3 hours. 

About 30 to 45 minutes (45 to 60 minutes for high altitude) before serving, stir in the pasta, spinach, cannellini beans, chopped green beans, ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of fresh-cracked pepper; let simmer on medium-low heat until pasta is just tender.  If needed, add more beef stock to thin out.  Serve soup hot with gremolata parmesan croutons (recipe follows). 

Gremolata Croutons:
In a small bowl, mix together the parsley, olive oil, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  In the toaster oven or under the broiler, lightly toast croutons and then rub with the garlic clove.  Drizzle with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.  Add 1 ½ teaspoons of the gremolata mixture to each crouton and spread out.  Top with a  light sprinkle of parmesan cheese and lightly toast until bread edges are golden and mixture is warmed through.  Serve warm.

Veggies Galore: Calabasitas for Dinner

Calabasitas is something I haven’t made in a while – it used to be one of my mainstays.  I guess that happens, you make certain dishes all the time then the recipe fades away for a bit only to be rediscovered later.  Calabasitas is like a Mexican version of ratatouille only it cooks in less time.  My version has fresh zucchini, yellow squash, sweet corn, (I’m proud to add that all three are Colorado-grown!) onions, Poblano pepper, tomatoes and cheese.  My secret ingredient is a pinch of dried Italian herbs, which brightens up the flavors.  The vegetables are sautéed until tender and it’s finished off with some cherry tomatoes, melted sharp cheddar cheese, queso fresco and cilantro.  Even though it has all vegetables, it’s a hearty and filling meal.

Coloradans like to brag about the good produce that is grown in our state – we are especially proud of the Palisade peaches and the sweet, tender Olathe corn from the Western Slope.  The peaches aren’t available yet but I did see the Olathe corn in the store and snatched some up.  For more flavor I grilled the corn but you don’t have to, in fact this is great with frozen corn kernels when fresh is out of season.  The vegetables take about a half hour to sauté, and I love that there this is melted cheese on top.  It adds a velvety richness and lots of flavor.  I served mine in individual serving dishes but you can serve it directly from the skillet; sprinkle the tomatoes and grated cheese on top of the vegetables and put the skillet under the broiler for a minute or so until the cheese gets nice and bubbly.  Add the garnishes and serve with warm corn tortillas – dinner is ready. 

Eat well and share the love!

Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies

1 ½ cups cubed zucchini (half-inch sized cubes)
1 ½ cups cubed yellow squash (half-inch sized cubes)
½ cup diced Poblano pepper (about half a large pepper)
1 small onion, diced
1/8 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 corn on the cob, kernels removed (or ½ cup frozen corn)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
5 to 6 cherry tomatoes, halved and quartered,
  or 4 tablespoons diced tomato
1/3 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons queso fresco cheese, crumbled
fresh cilantro leaves
fresh cracked pepper
2 to 3 warm corn tortillas
Optional: jalapeno rounds, thinly sliced

Heat a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat.  Add about 2 tablespoons olive oil, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.

When the oil is warm, add the chopped zucchini, yellow squash and Poblano peppers to the pan; season with ½ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and stir well.  Sauté vegetables for five or six minutes and add the onions.  Add a drizzle of olive oil around the edge of pan along with a good pinch of salt and 1/8 teaspoon Italian herbs.  Sauté for another 20 to 25 minutes until vegetables are soft and tender.  Add the minced garlic and let cook for 30 seconds, stirring often.  Stir in the corn kernels and let heat through, about 2 minutes.  (If the corn is frozen, let cook for 5 or 6 minutes until corn is heated through)

Turn the oven broiler to high.  Sprinkle the tomatoes over the vegetables and follow with the grated cheddar cheese.  Broil for 2 to 3 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

Garnish with crumbled queso fresco cheese, fresh cilantro leaves and fresh cracked pepper (optional: thinly sliced jalapeno rounds).  Serve hot with warm corn tortillas.

  • Optional Flavor Boost – Quick Grilled Corn: Heat grill to medium-high. Remove husks and silk from corn.  Lightly coat the corn cob with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Grill corn, turning often, for 5 to 8 minutes until the kernels start to soften and get browned. 
  • Safely remove kernels from corn with chef’s knife lay grilled corn on cutting board and place your hand flat on top, with index finger and thumb in the middle of cob (not hanging over the cutting side).  Slice knife down the side of the cob, parallel to the corn, to remove kernels.  Keep turning corn until all kernels are removed. 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, or Beannachtam na Feile Padraig!

I have to admit, when I heard the words Corned Beef and Cabbage they didn’t conjure up an appealing image for me.   Boiled cabbage?  Yuck, I said.  David had asked me to make a St. Patrick’s Day meal for many years and I finally relented about five years ago.  I wanted to figure out how I could put my own twist on the recipe and cook the cabbage to make it more appealing.  But what did I know about the Holiday itself?  To celebrate the Holiday in America, we wear green, eat corned beef with cabbage and drink green beer – why do we do that?  

When Irish immigrants came to America in the 1840’s during an exodus brought on by the Great Potato Famine, they also brought with them their customs and heritage.  The patron saint of Ireland is St. Patrick and he is celebrated on March 17, which marks his feast day and the anniversary of his death.  It is a national holiday in Ireland and is actually a religious holiday as it falls during the Christian lent season (meat restrictions were lifted for the holiday).  Traditionally, Irish bacon is eaten on the holiday but early Irish Americans soon found it too costly so corned beef was substituted.  The Irish celebrate their heritage through stories, feasting (including drinking beer), music and symbols.  Where did the green come from? The shamrock is a sacred Celtic plant and symbolizes the rebirth of spring.   In the 17th century when the English occupied their land and enacted laws which forbade the Irish from speaking their native language and practicing Catholicism, the Irish people started wearing shamrock symbols (possibly the actual plant) to show support for their heritage and to speak out against their oppression.  We still celebrate the Irish heritage today with feasting, drinking and incorporating as much green as we can.  In true American style, we have embraced the holiday and made it our own.

For the corned beef, I use the flat cut brisket.  It comes with a spice packet, which I use for the braising liquid along with some extras to add even more flavor: juniper berries, yellow mustard seeds, whole cloves, fresh cracked pepper, celery seed and bay leaves.  Once again, at my high altitude I have to cook the meat and vegetables longer but the recipe has a note for how to accommodate that.


One of my favorite cooking methods for vegetables is to roast them in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper (picture on left).  The vegetables become soft and caramelized with tons of flavor (picture on right).  Cabbage reacts the same way and is delicious when roasted.  So, instead of the boiling method I roast it.  To add more color, flavor and texture I also throw in carrots and onions.

How about a Lime Horseradish sauce to mix things up?  It is an easy way to put a modern twist on the ordinary, not to mention it has green in it.  Save your leftover meat, vegetables and one cup of the braising liquid for breakfast.  My next post for Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day, shares how you can use the leftovers for Corned Beef Hash.

(pronounced ‘slawn-cha’)  – a common Irish toast that means Health! and is the same as “Cheers”

Corned Beef with Roasted Vegetables & Lime Horseradish Sauce
Serves Two Foodies plus leftovers (great for Corned Beef Hash & Eggs)

4 lb. Corned Beef Brisket, flat cut
8-10 cups water
Spice packet from brisket
5 Juniper berries
1 teaspoon Yellow Mustard seeds
2 Bay leaves
2 whole Cloves
1 teaspoon Celery seeds
1 teaspoon coarse grind fresh cracked pepper

1/2 head of green cabbage, cut into 4 wedges (outer leaves and core removed)
3 potatoes, cut into large dice (skins on)
1 medium yellow onion, cut into large one inch pieces
3 large carrots, cut into one inch pieces
Olive Oil

Lime Horseradish Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
5 tablespoons horseradish sauce
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
Pinch of salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together and stir well.  If you like it hotter, add more horseradish.  Cover and refrigerate until dinner is ready.

Cook the Brisket: Cooking time:  approx. 3 hours (high altitude 3 ½ to 4 hours)
Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Rinse the meat well and pat dry.  In a large Dutch oven, sprinkle the spice packet on the bottom.  Place the meat on top, fat side down.  Sprinkle the remaining spices on top of the brisket and add the water – just enough to cover the meat.

Cover with lid and cook in oven for about 3 hours (3 ½ to 4 hours for high altitude) until meat is fork tender.  Turn brisket over halfway through cooking.

Roast the Vegetables: Cooking time: 45 to 60 minutes in 300 degree oven, then 20 minutes in 400 degree oven
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Place the cabbage wedges on one end of the sheet pan and drizzle both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  In a large bowl, add the potatoes and drizzle with a few teaspoons of olive oil and liberally season with salt and pepper; toss well to coat.  Transfer to sheet pan, keeping all vegetables together.  Repeat process separately for the onions and carrots.  Cover sheet pan tightly with foil.  Place in the oven during the last hour of the corned beef cooking time.  Cook for 45 to 50 minutes until fork tender (for high altitude cook for 60 minutes). 

When the corned beef is fork tender, remove it from the oven.  Remove the foil from the vegetables and place back in the oven.  Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees and let finish browning while the meat rests.

Serve: Place the corned beef on a cutting board, cover tightly with foil to keep warm, and let rest for about 20 minutes while the vegetables finish cooking.  Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid for leftovers: corned beef hash.

Slice the meat against the grain into thin slices.  Shingle the slices in the middle of a platter and add the roasted vegetables around it.  Pour two or three ladles of the braising liquid over the meat and vegetables and serve immediately.  Serve with lime horseradish sauce and your favorite Irish beer.