Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Basic 30-Minute Vegetable Soup

Soup might be the easiest thing to get together on a busy night. Quicker and more nutritious than the fastest of fast foods... particularly if you factor in the time it takes to get to where you need to go to do the picking up. And, certainly, it's far more cost-effective.

I say this with a purpose...

With two daughters working busy schedules, in big cities, with lots of traffic to maneuver or sidewalks to travel, commutes home can be long and tiresome. These commutes often involve me (by phone), chatting about the day and, of course, what's for dinner.

Our older daughter is a bit of a planner (and typically cooks for two, which is always easier). Sundays usually involve grocery shopping and some thought to the week's menu. Our youngest has more of a go-with-the-flow approach to things. Translation: often doesn't know what might be for dinner until she peeks in her fridge or pantry. Grocery shopping is typically way down on her "to-do" list, necessitated simply by the fact that the aforementioned areas might be getting a bit thread bare. And yet, both girls appreciate and enjoy good food (and keeping money in their pockets!).

Enter this soup...

The "basic" part of this soup is that it does require some basics... ingredients that I believe should be part of a basic kitchen arsenal, no matter how bare the cupboards may be. And with these basics... dinner is easy and quick.

For fresh ingredients... carrots, celery, onion, and kale (or fresh spinach, swiss chard, whatever your particular preference might be). We happen to use kale in daily morning smoothies so we always have it readily available. Carrots, celery and onion are simply tried and true basics to starting many good soups. Plus they keep well if stored correctly. If not used quickly, carrots and celery can be cut into "sticks" and stored in an airtight container, with a little water, in the fridge. Onions keep well stored in a cool, dry place... like the pantry.

The seasonings are ones that are easy and inexpensive to stock... kosher salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and dried italian seasoning.

And, the pantry items should be regular staples... vegetable stock, olive oil, canned beans, and canned tomatoes. Having a good little selection of these items opens up all kinds of possibilities.

This is all it takes to have a great, flavorful, nutritious, quick, and easy soup... only 15 minutes to prep and 15 minutes (maybe 20) to simmer. It can be accomplished even when you're dog tired, half asleep, with one-armed tied behind your back (or stuffed in your pockets wading through the money you saved by not heading out for the $8 bowl of weak soup at the corner market).

It can also be lunch or dinner the next day... cha-ching, cha-ching.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pumpkin Pancakes... with or without Chocolate Chips

Pumpkin doesn't really call my name until we are well into October and I begin thinking of pumpkin pie. There is, however, one exception to my somewhat Pavlovian reaction to the season: the pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins I make and, for whatever reason, seem to speak my language no matter what time of year.

And now, there are these pancakes...

If you google "pumpkin pancakes" you'll get a host of recipes. Other than a few tweaks here and there... most having to do with the amount or type of flour, whether to use granulated or brown sugar, the option of using pumpkin pie spice mix or a mix of pumpkin pie spices (meaning you select the mix and amount of spices), etc... the recipes are somewhat similar. I took a peek at the results of this query... and my own favorite pumpkin-chocolate chip muffin recipe.. in mixing the batter for these pumpkin pancakes. Both muffins and pancakes are considered "quick breads" so the fundamentals of making each are similar with, perhaps, the main difference being that you want a wetter batter with pancakes... and one that isn't quite as sweet as a muffin batter.

The result? Pretty much pancake perfection.

First of all, I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Pancake Mix. I would never have normally considered this mix since I'm not gluten-intolerant; however, I recently tasted the gluten-free pancakes at one of our favorite brunch spots and think they may be the best I've had while eating out... making this mix our mix of choice now. Though I'm not entirely sure what all they added, I was told that they use soy milk.  Since I went the pumpkin route on these particular cakes, the rest of my additives follow that path of flavor.

These are fluffy, moist pancakes that hint at the flavors of pumpkin pie without becoming an after-dinner dessert. They offer a subtle pumpkin flavor with just the right amount of sweetness... a level that welcomes the addition of powdered sugar and maple syrup with open arms instead of a weak embrace. It's a pancake that can be as easily flipped for breakfast as it can be a flip for dinner (sometimes even better). And, like my favorite pumpkin muffin, one which plays beautifully with chocolate.

It's a pancake that will have pumpkin calling my name well in Spring and Summer... loud, clear... and subtly sweet.