Posts tagged ‘family’

Step by Step: Tortellini, Tomato and Spinach Soup

My mother-in-law is a really good cook.  I’m not just saying that because I know she’s reading this, it’s true.  She’s also extremely willing to pass along recipes, which is great for my Rachael Ray filled recipe binder.  Plus, it always works in my favor to cook something from Brian’s days at home once in a while, especially since we know it’s been well tested.  One of the recipes she’s given me that I’ve made several times is a soup of tortellini, tomato and spinach.

Fortunately, to make this  soup, you don’t really have to be a good cook.  You also don’t have to have a lot of time, or a lot of ingredients.  It’s that easy.  Who could ask for more?

Tortellini, Tomato and Spinach Soup

adapted from my mother-in-law, serves about 4.

You’ll need:
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
3.5 cups vegetable broth
8 oz fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes, undrained and cut up
grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 2 cloves crushed (or poorly chopped, in my case) garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.


2. Add vegetable broth and tortellini.

Heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

3. Add spinach and tomatoes.

Simmer for 5 more minutes.

4. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

tortellini soup

Could it be any easier than that?
One of the best things about this recipe is that all the ingredients can be kept on hand to use for those times when you don’t know what to make for dinner.

September 14, 2009 at 9:28 am 2 comments

Mom’s Blueberry Muffins

muffin tower

How could I say no to “Buy 1, Get 1 Free” blueberries at the supermarket last week when I knew I had the perfect recipe for them?  My mom has the most delicious blueberry muffin recipe, and after waiting a couple days for her to email me the recipe (my recipe binder is with my in-laws in Connecticut with the rest of the stuff we couldn’t fit in our cars!), my Man also understands why we needed to buy blueberries last week.  Plus, it gave me the chance to use my new KitchenAid mixer!

Mom’s Blueberry Muffins

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½  teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup milk
2 cups blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar mixed with ¼ teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease & flour 12 muffin cups and grease tops of the tins between the cups.(Or, do what I do: Use baking cups instead.  It’s much, much easier)
  2. Mix together flour, powder, and salt.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, beat butter a few minutes until fluffy. Beat in sugar until well blended. Beat in the eggs thoroughly; add the vanilla.
  4. Stir in the flour mixture about half at a time, alternating with milk, half at a time. Stir in 2 cups of blueberries.
  5. Spoon batter into prepared cups, filling them to the top. Sprinkle with the nutmeg sugar.
  6. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden. Let muffins cool about 30 minutes in pan before removing. (Or not…I’m pretty sure I didn’t…)
  7. Enjoy!


July 8, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Rhubarb Pie, In The Summer…

Once upon a time, there was a great song by the (now disbanded) band, Five Iron Frenzy:

Feeling that it was inappropriate to sing this song without ever having eaten rhubarb pie, my sister convinced me to make a rhubarb pie yesterday.  I have never made a pie. I have never had rhubarb.  But my sister has this strange way of making all her ideas sound like good ones, so we did some research.  We settled on this Fresh Rhubarb Pie recipe and this “Best Ever Pie Crust” recipe, both from

We made the crust, which needed to be refrigerated for 4 hours or overnight, last night at 11pm.  Way past by bed time, but the recipe was incredibly simple.  The 2 balls of dough were done and in the fridge by 11:30.

This afternoon we began making the pie.

The setup: Pie plate, my sister chopping rhubarb, 2 balls of dough, my mother’s pastry mat (I told my Man today that I need this one), and my laptop which provided us with the recipe.

I was very proud of the job I did rolling out this pie crust:

Then we filled the crust with the chopped rhubarb and sugar/flour mixture

The pie baked for 55 minutes total and this was the final result:

Beautiful, eh?

My sister and I were thrilled (but not shocked) to discover that rhubarb pie tastes as good as it looks.  I’m sure the cup and a third of sugar that’s in the recipe helps, but that’s beside the point.  Rhubarb pie is delicious, and you should make one while rhubarb is still in season.

And, when you’re done baking, put on some Five Iron Frenzy music and have a dance party in your kitchen like my sister and I did.

June 7, 2009 at 7:55 pm 2 comments

Covert Operation

Something amazing has occurred in my house.  My father ate something with chickpeas in it–and liked it!  We’re definitely making progress.

Last week, Matt of NoMeatAthlete posted a recipe for Spinach and Artichoke Salad with Couscous Cakes which he found on Fine Cooking.  I’m pretty over salads at the moment, but the couscous cakes looked pretty good.  Plus they’re wicked simple: they only require  8 ingredients and  I had all of them except the lemon already in the house! I made them last night as a side dish to accompany the cube steaks my mom had planned for supper.  The cakes, which are made mostly of couscous, parsley, chickpeas, lemon zest and garlic, were incredibly easy to create.  I had about the same experience Matt did–they fell apart a little and didn’t brown as well as I’d hoped.  But they taste really good.

The ultimate success came at dinner however.  I served up the cakes and, when dad inquired about the ingredients slyly forgot to mention the chickpeas.  Dad, my strongest critic and hater of all things in the bean family, was quick to praise the couscous cakes.  Mom also though they were tasty.  I was so thrilled to expose the secret chickpeas to Dad.  He didn’t have much to say in response to my gloating and victory: he just smiled and finished eating his cake.

I will say that the side dish did get one negative review in my house: my sister (who I forgot doesn’t like couscous to begin with) thought the couscous cakes were bland and tasteless.  No one else in my house particularly understood that review, but I guess they’re not for everyone.

I, for one, would make them again in an instant.  And I plan to continue spreading my love of beans and other healthy foods to my parents.

May 31, 2009 at 8:15 pm 1 comment

Vacation Is My Best Excuse

Posting’s been thin lately, but I have a good excuse (I think).  My sister and I were on vacation in Quebec City.

If you’ve never been (and we hadn’t), I highly suggest you go.  We had a wonderful time shopping, going to the Musée National des Beaux Arts du Québec, walking through The National Battlefields Park, and, of course, eating.

crepes burgers

I’m sure Quebec isn’t the end all, be all of fine cusine, but I took my mini-vacation seriously and ate whatever I wanted, not necesarily in terms of quanity-we stuck to 3 meals a day, and relatively cheap ones because we’re like that- but I ordered whatever I felt like off the menu, vegetarian or not.  We were only there for 3 days and it was vacation after all.  Everything we ate was delicious (who doesn’t love crepes?), and despite our lack of ability to speak French, the waitstaff in all the restaurants we tried were accomodating and helpful.

We finished up our wonderful trip to Canada by stopping at the Empire Grill in Skowhegan, Maine on our way home.  For those unfamiliar with the novel Empire Falls by Richard Russo, the Empire Grill is the restaurant owned by the main character.  The Empire Grill in Skowhegan was used as the site for the filming of the HBO miniseries based on the book which starred Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Newman, after which time the restaurant kept the Empire Grill name.  Empire Falls is one of my absolute favorite books of all time, so stopping at the Grill was a “must do”.  The restaurant far exceeded my expectations.  The portions were huge (I think they served my sister an entire fish with her fish and chips), the prices reasonable and the food delicious.  Even if you don’t care about Empire Falls (though you really, really should!), the Empire Grill is the perfect place to eat if you ever find yourself in Skowhegan.

May 27, 2009 at 9:30 pm 1 comment

Caper Capers (or, “Adventures in Pasta”)

On Monday, Giada at Home featured a recipe for “Pasta Ponza” that I was dying to try.  It sounded delicious, vegetarian, and simple.  Perfect for dinner.  I printed the recipe and went to the store.

Adventure #1:  I don’t know if it’s just my supermarket, or if this is the case everywhere (if you have insight, please let me know!) but apparently whole wheat pasta doesn’t come in 16 oz packages.  The recipe calls for a pound of pasta, so I bought 2 13.25 oz packages and gave it my best guess.  But really, why would they do that?  This is what you get for trying to eat better.

After that, it was smooth sailing.  Like I said, the recipe is really simple:


Halve the cherry tomatoes, mix with oil, capers, salt and pepper, cover with breadcrumbs and tomatoes and cook for about 1/2 an hour.  Remove the tomatoes from the oven, mix with pasta and cheese and serve.  Easy as pie (or pasta), right?  Obviously, the recipe has more details, but that’s about it.

Which brings us to the Caper Caper.

My family and I are eating and I notice pretty quick that the capers don’t taste right.  They’re not as soft as capers usually are…and they’re spicy.  I know they’re not spoiled, because I just opened the jar…but they do taste a lot like pepper.  Mom also thinks this is strange.  Dad, however, thinks this is wonderful.  Way better than capers.

Sure enough…

In my defense, when my mother and I purchased them, they were right next to the capers.  And they look like capers. And they’re in liquid, like capers.

But they are not capers.

Nevertheless, dinner was pretty good, and Dad spent most of it applauding my “mistake” and suggesting that I always make it that way.  Maybe I will (but I do like capers…)

April 29, 2009 at 7:58 pm 3 comments

Breaking the Rules

Overall, I’m doing really well with my decision to not eat meat once a day, a decision which essentially cuts my meat consumption in half.  It’s been a good choice I think: forces me to think about what I’m eating, requires that I shop and make myself lunch to bring to school.  I’ve become acutely aware of which restaurants have decent vegetarian offerings on their menus.  Its a good thing.

I’ve settled into a nice routine where I food shop and cook my lunch for the week on Sundays.  Last Sunday I made Mushroom and Barley Soup from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  Even though it was for lunches, I made my parents try it.  My mom said she liked it better than the Tarascan soup I made (how is that possible? That soup’s great!).  Dad was pretty grossed out; he doesn’t like mushrooms.  Points to both of them for trying; I will spread the gospel of homemade food and vegetarian meals! The soup wasn’t the best thing I’d ever eaten, but it was pretty good and I was proud of myself for eating vegetarian (vegan, even), cooking my own food and sucessfully dealing with dried porcini mushrooms and barley, neither of which I’d done before.

img_0392 img_0391 img_0393 img_0396

That was Sunday.  Today is Friday.  And despite the fact that I still have a serving left (Side note: how is it possible that no matter how closely I follow a recipe, even if I halve the recipe, I still end up with more servings than the recipe says I will?), I could not bear mushroom and barley soup for the fifth day in a row.  Not when there was a serving of left over ravioli sitting in the fridge.  Chicken ravoli.

So, I broke my own rule.  Maybe I won’t eat meat for dinner (unlikely, if one of my parents cooks). I feel a little bad about it, but not much.  The ravioli was darn good.  I’m pretty sure ravioli, tomato sauce and 2 tangerines for dessert still doesn’t qualify as a “bad” meal.  Sometimes, you just have to set your principles aside.

I’m making vegetable and barley soup for lunch for next week (I’m a soup addict).  I think I’ll be more excited to eat it than I was the mushroom.  At least, I hope.

March 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm 1 comment

Favorite Places: Harney and Sons

Disclaimer: Tea is one of my most favorite things in the world.  Even if that’s not true for you, you should still read this post.

It’s somewhat unlikely that you’d ever find yourself randomly in Millerton, NY.  However, if you ever find yourself anywhere near Millerton, NY (like, in any state between New Jersey and Maine), you must stop by Harney and Sons Fine Tea on Route 22.The store/tea tasting bar/tasting room was a wonderful experience which I’d been looking forward to since receiving Harney and Sons teas as a gift last year.

My Man, his parents and I started with a delicious lunch in the Tasting Room.  There have been moments when I’ve felt frustrated by my decision to not eat meat for lunch–the mushroom strudel with gruyere cheese I ordered was not one of them.  It was incredible.  And, of course, we drank tea, Lapsang Souchong my Man picked out, which was smoky and definitely worth trying .  But even if you for some bizarre reason weren’t going to have any tea, the food is still worth it.

After lunch we moved on to the tea tasting bar.

It’s probably a bad idea to take me to a place which provides me with the opportunity to sample any one of 200 varieties of tea, the vast majority of which I’ve never heard (or dreamed) of.  I have a hard time deciding what color socks to wear on any given day. However, the staff at the tea bar are incredibly knowledgeable (I’d just about die for their job if I had any hope of ever retaining all the information the man behind the counter did.)  Chances are while you’re there, sipping and smelling tea and trying to consider what to purchase, John Harney will wander through and say hello, because it is a family business, after all.

Harney and Sons makes excellent tea.  The Plaza Hotel thinks so (they serve H&S “Palm Court” black tea), and so does Barnes and Noble.  The experience of the tasting room and tea bar only enhance the experience (and make me want to buy more tea).  Highly recommended.

Unable to visit?  Fear not, you can order all their tea online, at

February 19, 2009 at 9:59 am 1 comment

Miracles Do Happen

You may recall a post from December wherein I discussed my family’s eating habits and mentioned: “We don’t eat beans.  Period.  Dad thinks we’re nuts for including cannoli and garbanzo beans [in a soup my Man and I made].”  Well, after all my whiny posts and my decision to cook what I wanted to eat for lunch irregardless of what my parents thought, I made something with beans in it that my dad actually liked.

A lot of my interest in cooking different, good, healthy food stems from time I’ve spent with my Man and his parents.  One of the first times I visited with them, his mother made this delicious soup.  It was the first of many recipes she’s given me.  After a quick internet search, it appears the recipe is from Cooking Light, though it tastes anything but light.

“Carol’s” Tarascan Soup

You’ll need:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oilingredients
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, undrained
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (16-ounce) can chicken broth (can substitute fat-free, less sodium)
  • Shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 1 cup; can substitute reduced fat)
  • Tortilla chips, crushed (about 1 cup)

1.  Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onions and garlic, cook for 3 minutes.*  Add canned tomatoes with their liquid, stir, cook 5 minutes.

2. Put beans and their liquid into a food processor (or blender) and process until smooth.

soup3. Add the beans, chili powder, cumin, hot sauce, salt and broth to the pan.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 18 more minutes, uncovered.

4. Serve with shredded cheese and crushed chips.  Serves about 8.


*My apologies to anyone who doesn’t like onions and garlic as much as I do and is weary of the fact that the majority of my recipes appear to start with a step identical to this one.

February 1, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Restaurant Review: Frontier Cafe, Cinema and Gallery

Despite the fact that I frequent the mid-coast college town of Brunswick, Maine, I had never heard of Frontier until a student mentioned it to me a week or two ago.  I immediately checked out their website (  and was intrigued.  It looked different, modern and delicious.

My family and I got the opportunity to check out Frontier today.  Located inside Fort Andross, a refurbished mill on the Androscoggin River which also houses Cabot Mill Antiques, the cafe immediately felt warm and inviting to me.  As I mentioned, I’d never heard of Frontier, which left me initially concerned that they might be struggling.  However, the place was practically full when we arrived at 2 in the afternoon and remained as such.  I’m not worried for them; if there’s a recession going on, it’s not apparent at Frontier.   The bulk of the cafe is open and spacious, with thick wood tables and benches.  The walls are deep reds and yellows and the big windows overlook the River.  Black and white artwork of loggers ran along one wall.  I’m big on atmosphere and to me, the place seemed comfortable, friendly and hard to be unhappy in.  Another draw of Frontier which we did not explore today is their cinema.  I didn’t count seats but I suspect it holds about 50, with counters in front of each row of chairs for enjoying your food while watching an indie film.

One orders at a counter immediately upon entering the cafe; menu selections are written on chalkboards suspended from the high ceilings.  I had previewed the menu several times online and was especially interested in the “marketplates”: themed platters of various ingredients including French, Italian and Cheese.  However, once we arrived at the cafe I couldn’t resist the creamy potato dill soup being offered.  My parents ordered the pastrami sandwich and a Frontier Italian sandwich.  Everything on the menu seemed appetizing, however and they also have a large selection of bottled teas, sodas, beer and wine.  The wait for our food seemed a little long for soup and sandwiches, but they were busy.  My soup arrived in a ceramic bowl with two slices of crusty bread.  It was very thick, very tasty and very filling.  The rustic sandwiches looked delicious as well.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend Frontier to someone looking for a refreshing dining experience.  My soup was great and so was the atmosphere.  One of my parents said “it was good but not stupendous.”  I agree-it’s not gourmet cuisine, but it was really quality, original, fresh cafe and deli food in a great location.

Also, check out the reviews from the Portland Press Herald and Down East Magazine.

Frontier Cafe, Cinema and Gallery
14 Maine Street, Brunswick, ME

January 17, 2009 at 9:23 pm

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