In the Kitchen: Italian Wedding Soup

I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of this until I found a recipe while FoodGawking one day. When I expressed my utter joy in having discovered such a fantastic food, everyone laughed at me like I’d just discovered Google or something.

Perhaps your mom/grandma/Aunt Gus makes this, or maybe that café on the corner serves it for Tuesday lunch and you’ve already been there, done that.

But if you haven’t! Oh my. Give this a try. The key here is to layer the flavors, so be sure and take enough time between each step for the tastes to meld. I’ve simplified the recipe quite a bit, so if you’d like to make it more authentic, use your favorite meatball recipe.

Italian Wedding Soup

16 oz frozen Italian-style meatballs
2 tablespoons EVOO
1 cup minced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
8 cups chicken stock (can use Better than Bouillon to make this)
1 cup orzo
10 oz ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Sauté the onion, carrots and celery until the onion is transparent.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and meatballs, return to a boil, and cook until the pasta is soft, about ten minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning to your liking with salt and pepper. Add the spinach and simmer for a couple of minutes more.

Serve with Parmesan, if desired.

In the Kitchen: Stuffed Bell Peppers

I don’t like to run out of things.

At this moment, there is a back up/replacement product for just about anything in my pantry, medicine cabinet and baby supply closet.

Just used the last cup of flour? No problem. Check the third shelf, behind the spaghetti noodles.

Took the last two Immodium Tuesday after that unfortunate undercooked chicken sandwich incident? There’s some at the back of the cabinet next to the year’s worth of deodorant.

Wipes? Hell, I’ve got enough wipes to clean up after a zombie invasion. Brrrraaaaiiiins are no match for the cases of Pampers Sensitive I’ve got stacked in my son’s closet.

No matter how well I plan, though, I always seem to run out of “the good meat” and am occasionally left to choose between a UMO (unidentified meaty object) and a pound of ground beef when I open the deep freeze looking for dinner.

The UMO will likely remain in the freezer forever because I’m just not brave enough to defrost it, so I end up with ground beef.

And sure, I could make tacos, or burgers or spaghetti. Again. But sometimes, I’ve got bell peppers in the crisper.

Those are always good days.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

3 large green bell peppers, halved and seeded
1 lb ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes and chilis
1 cup cooked rice
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp seasoning salt (Lawry’s, or I use Tony Chachere’s)
¾ cup water
1 cube beef bouillon or 1 tsp Better Than Bouillon
½ cup breadcrumbs (I like panko, but you can use whatever you have)
Optional: Cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brown ground beef, then add onion and garlic and cook until onion starts to become transparent. Drain well. Add rice

Combine tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Season with pepper and seasoning salt. Pour half of the mixture over the meat and rice and mix well.

Mix water and bouillon and pour into the bottom of a casserole dish.

Stuff each pepper half with the meat mixture and place in the water. (You may parboil the peppers beforehand if you would like them to turn out softer.)

Spoon out more tomato mixture on top of each pepper and sprinkle them liberally with breadcrumbs.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.

*If you’d like, top with grated or sliced cheese during the last five minutes of cooking time.

Sometimes you have to share

Every family has a collection of stories they tell about each other. Sometimes the stories are funny, oftentimes they are embarrassing, but occasionally they are sweet and translate well from generation to generation.

My Aunt Jan tells the story of how when I was five, I told my two-year-old sister that she was coming to visit. But I set very clear boundaries about the relationship my sister could have with our aunt.

“She’s my Aunt Jan,” I said. “I will share her with you, but she’s mine.”

I was serious.

My Aunt Jan is by all accounts an amazing person.

She has a servant’s heart and a wicked sense of humor. She’ll give you the shirt off her back, the lipstick from her purse and the earrings from her drawer. She even carried dog bones in the trunk of her car for the longest time in case she came across strays. She’s an unbiased listener, a wise counselor and a fearless learner. She completely embodies the definition of the color purple.

Just don’t piss her off.

She’s an angel, but if you hurt her family, she will cut you. No lie. Ask the receipt checker at a certain Sam’s Club in Southeast Texas who was rude to my grandfather.

Anyway, when my son was a few weeks old, my aunt flew to Kansas City to be the first of my family to meet him. She cooked for me, ran errands, and took about eleventy billion photos.

I was in awe of how quickly she fell in love with my son.

Over the last year, she has made it a point to video chat with the Monkey on Saturday mornings. Because of those chats, he recognizes her face and voice, and they’re quite the adorable pair.

Sometimes she’ll show him toys she buys and keeps at her house. She’ll sing to him and chatter at him, but mostly she just watches as he tears around the living room upending everything in sight.

We’ve been counting down to her visit this weekend for months now, and when she got off the plane last night I was not surprised when my son went right to her, laid his head on her shoulder, and snuggled her until she was forced to put him down to claim her baggage.

He was thrilled to see her this morning when she came downstairs and shrieked like a banshee. My heart melted along with my eardrums.

After breakfast we all headed to the Weston Red Barn Farm – our third trip in as many years – which I guess makes it an official family tradition.

But first! First we had to finally flip the carseat forward facing. We’d originally wanted to leave it rear facing til at least 18 months, but my 27-lb, 33-inch toddler has been twisting his legs into a pretzel to fit for the last few weeks, so it was just time.

Also, he got his very own cup of juice at QuikTrip today. Holy crap, my kid is grown.

I was a little bummed because it’s been too warm and the leaves aren’t as vibrant as they usually are, but we still had a magical time at the farm.

We practiced our animal noises with the goats and pigs.

We climbed on haystacks.

We rode around on Daddy’s shoulders to get a better view of all the hot chicks visiting from the local kindergarten.

And Aunt Jan bought us our very. first. ever. PUMPKIN.

We were completely knackered by the time lunch rolled around and passed out during the ride home, but woke up with renewed energy, ransacked the house and wrestled with Aunt Jan until mean old Mama decided it was bedtime.

And when I was getting him ready for bed, I told him to give goodnight kisses to Aunt Jan, but couldn’t resist adding, “She’s my Aunt Jan, but I’ll share her with you.”

 

In the Kitchen: This is why fractions are important

Every year on or around the first of October my husband ventures into the kitchen to bake the one thing he knows how to make: his grandmother’s pumpkin bread.

He doesn’t just make one or two loaves though.

No, after a morning full of flour spills and fished-out eggshells, every inch of our countertops are covered with little brown rectangles. Our friends are ok with this, or at least they pretend to be, because they always smile and take the bread so lovingly offered.

So this morning I heard hubs banging around in the kitchen and at first I think he’s going to bring me coffee. I’m thrilled.

Soon, though, the questions begin.

“Where’s the mixer thingie?”

“Is pumpkin a dry measure or wet measure? Which cup do I use?”

“Where are the measuring cups?”

Damn, dude. Bring me some coffee first.

Then he really runs into a problem. He brings me the can of pumpkin.

“I need two cups of pumpkin. How much do you think this can holds?”

Really?

After we have a short tutorial on how to read labels, he’s back at work, trying to convert the whole recipe to fit the amount of pumpkin he has.

Finally, I tell him to simplify it and scoop out ½ cup of pumpkin to make it easier. A light bulb, in all its incandescent glory, suddenly appears above his fuzzy blonde head.

For all the teasing I gave him, I have to admit, that was the best damn pumpkin bread ever.

I don’t think we’ll share with anyone this year. But you can make your own – here’s the recipe.

Pumpkin Bread

3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp soda
2 tsp nutmeg
4 eggs
2 cups pumpkin
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cups water
1 tsp ginger

Mix eggs, oil, water, and pumpkin. Mix dry ingredients and add gradually to other mixture. Grease and flour three loaf pans, add mixture, and bake one hour at 350 degrees.