A few days ago, my husband and I took our dog for a walk in the woods near our house. It was a cloudy day, but the clouds allowed the vivid colors of the trees to shine. It was an enchanting walk through a grassy field and then into the deep, bright woods. I am posting this recipe for vegetable and beef soup because I think it is a perfect soup to have waiting when one returns from a walk in the chilly fall air. It would also taste good on a Halloween evening. The beauty of this soup is that you can put it together in a slow cooker in the morning, and it will be ready and waiting when you come in from whatever activities you have going on. Whatever glamour slow cookers lack, they make up for it in allowing us to go out and do luxurious things like tromping through the gorgeous woods when we would normally be scrambling to get a dinner together. I love my slow cooker. As I have mentioned before, if I am cooking with beef, I much prefer to use organic, grass-fed beef because it tastes better and is better for the planet. It is more expensive to do this, but as we don’t eat meat every day, it doesn’t break our budget. And the colorful vegetables make this soup a delight to eat after a long day.
Hearty Vegetable and Beef Soup
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 4 small red potatoes, diced
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced
- 14 ounces tomatoes, with their juices
- 3 cups water
- 3 teaspoons Better than Bouillon reduced sodium beef base, or the equivalent
- 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons of salt
Wash and chop the vegetables, and mince the garlic. Brown the beef and onion in a skillet. Place the vegetables in a slow cooker. With a slotted spoon, spoon the beef and onion mixture into the slow cooker. Add the water, Better than Bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and salt. Stir gently to combine, and cook in a slow cooker on low heat for about 8 hours. If you are in a pinch, cook on high heat for about 4 hours. Adjust salt to taste. Serve with rustic bread and slices of cheese. Enjoy!
I must admit that putting a meal on the table has been a bit of a struggle this past couple of weeks. Things have been so busy with my kids’ soccer and basketball schedules, school events, and other things that it feels like we have been running around a lot, in need of wholesome nourishment to ground us. It is all good stuff, and I am glad my kids are involved in activities they enjoy. But eating well during this busy season can be a challenge. The recipe I posted below for homemade fries made from sweet potatoes and red potatoes is a good one for this busy time. It does take a little time to slice the potatoes and bake them, but while they are baking I can throw together a salad and heat up some veggie burgers, and by the time the fries are done, I’ve got a delicious, healthy meal. And the few minutes I spend slicing the potatoes is worth it–the homemade fries are of course much healthier than the fries found at most restaurants. They are baked in a small amount of olive oil and only a sprinkling of salt, with the paprika and garlic powder giving them lots of flavor. The sweet potatoes are full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin A and potassium. The red potatoes aren’t so bad either; they have lots of vitamin C, minerals, and fiber. The key to making these homemade fries taste good is to bake them long enough that they are kind of crispy and not too mushy. I love the colors of these fries–they remind me of fall leaves. As for the veggie burgers, I just heat them in a skillet, toast some bagels to serve the burgers on, and add some sliced cheddar.
Paprika Sweet and Red Potato Fries
- 3 cups sweet potatoes, sliced into strips
- 3 cups red potatoes, sliced into strips
- 1-2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- salt to taste
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Thoroughly wash the sweet potatoes and red potatoes. Slice the potatoes into thin strips, like the shape of french fries. Place them in a medium-size bowl. Gradually add the olive oil. Add just enough oil to lightly coat the potato slices, but not so much that it is dripping from them. Add the paprika, garlic powder, and salt. You can adjust the seasonings to suit your own tastes–these are just suggested amounts that work for my family. Toss the potato slices so the olive oil and spices are evenly distributed. Arrange the potato slices on two baking sheets and put in the oven. Bake for about 16-20 minutes. It helps if you flip the fries about halfway through baking time. Fries are done when they are just crispy on the outside. Enjoy!
Making bread is such a basic, yet artistic task. It is an ancient tradition that has stayed with us even in this modern world. Though we can easily buy bread, there is something about making it with one’s own hands that is soothing and gratifying. For me, it is also a good way to get creative ideas flowing. Bread-making is such a rich field for symbolic interpretation, the way the temperature cannot be too hot or it will kill the rising powers of the yeast, yet it needs to be warm enough to allow the dough to rise, the fact that we get to create the shape the dough becomes. I also love the fluidity and flexibility in making bread. I never do it exactly the same way twice, and there is no exact amount of flour to use. The bread-making conditions change depending on the room temperature, humidity, and lots of other things. So much of it depends on how the dough feels, and really I think bread gets better and better with practice, as is the case with almost everything. I recently wrote an essay about the beauty of bread-making, and it has been published in the current October/November issue of one of my favorite magazines, MaryJanesFarm. If you have never read this magazine, you should check it out at the newsstand or at www.maryjanesfarm.org. This magazine is full of information about natural living, healthy eating, gardening and farming, with beautiful photographs and great recipes and ideas. In my bread-making essay, I write about the therapeutic effects of kneading the messy, sticky batter into a soft, smooth, elastic ball of sweet-smelling dough, and how as I knead, I can work through whatever is on my mind. And the beauty of it is that the more one kneads the bread dough, the better the bread is. So if I am working the dough extra much to figure out a problem, the bread turns out that much more tender. And the heavenly scent of bread baking in the oven! That alone is worth all the labor of making bread by hand. These days, I don’t have the time to make bread as often as I used to, and I know many of us are usually too crunched for time to make our own bread. But when there is an open morning or an open afternoon, I savor the chance to work with the dough and create something so necessary, yet so luxurious. Below is the recipe I use most often for bread. It is very basic, holds up well for making sandwiches and toast, and tastes especially delicious right out of the oven with butter melting on a freshly-sliced piece. This recipe comes from “The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book”, though this trustworthy book is definitely not “new” anymore–my mother gave it to me in the early 1990s! However, I find myself going back to this recipe time and time again because it works well for me, and my family loves it.
Homemade Wheat Bread
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 cup water
Combine 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and the yeast in a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, heat and stir the brown sugar, butter, 1 and 3/4 cup water, and 1 teaspoon salt until warm (about 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit) and the butter is mostly melted. If the brown sugar/butter mixture is quite hot, let it cool. I usually wait until I can (carefully!) dip my finger in the mixture to know if it is cool enough. If the mixture feels comfortably warm, then it is cool enough. You don’t want to pour a hot mixture into the flour/yeast mixture, because that could kill the yeast’s rising powers. When the brown sugar/butter mixture is slightly warm but not hot, pour into the flour/yeast mixture. With a large wooden spoon, stir vigorously for a two to three minutes, until the mixture is completely smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl regularly. Then stir in the whole wheat flour and as much of the remaining all-purpose flour you can.
When the dough becomes too stiff to stir, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, scraping the sides of the bowl to get everything out. Now comes the fun part. Knead in enough of all-purpose flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. There is no exact amount of flour to use–it really depends on so many different variables–so just gradually knead in flour and watch the texture of the dough change. Make sure you knead energetically, folding the dough over and pushing down with the heel of your hand, and then using your fingers as the dough gets softer. Knead a minimum of 8 minutes, but you can knead longer if that is what it takes to get the dough to the texture you want. It should be soft and moist, but not sticky, with the flour worked in evenly. Shape the dough into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl; turn once. Cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm (not hot–around 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal) place until double the size (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
When the dough has about doubled in size, punch it down and turn out again onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Cover and let the dough rest for ten minutes. Meanwhile, lightly grease two 8x4x2 inch loaf pans. Then shape each half of dough into the shape of a loaf. Place in loaf pans. Cover with the dish towel and let the loaves rise in a warm place until they are the size you want them when you bake them (they should about double in size–it takes about 45 to 60 minutes).
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Bake the bread in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when you tap it. Cover loosely with foil the last 10 to 20 minutes of baking time. Remove the bread from the pans and let cool. Enjoy!
Around this time of year, every year, I feel the old familiar stirring, the wistful yearning to be out rambling through the woods, among the golden and crimson trees. The third stanza of a poem by Canadian poet Bliss Carman captures this feeling well for me: “There is something in October / Sets the gypsy blood astir; / We must rise and follow her, / When from every hill of flame / She calls and calls / Each vagabond by name.” The trees and bushes are turning colors before our very eyes, and the beautiful changes are irresistible to the vagabond in our blood. Right along with this desire to wander in the woods is a heightened appreciation for the comforts of home. After walking outside in the chilly (and sometimes wet) elements, we savor the warmth of something simmering in a pot on the stove. Especially when it smells as good as homemade applesauce. The recipe I have posted below is one of my mom’s recipes–it is very simple, and it makes a hearty, chunky applesauce that tastes delicious and makes your kitchen smell amazing. I have great memories of returning from a long walk to her warm, fragrant kitchen with apple sauce bubbling on the stove, and I enjoy making it in my own kitchen too. It creates instant autumn coziness and warms the chilly wanderer. It’s also a good way to use apples that have gone a little soft. You can serve it warm and steaming, or use it as a healthy topping for waffles or oatmeal. Also, if you have any left over, you can store it in the refrigerator and serve it cold.
Easy Homemade Applesauce
- 6 medium-sized apples, any variety–I like Empire, Cortland, or Macintosh best
- 1 Tablespoon water
- 3/4 to 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Directions: Wash, peel, and slice the apples into eighths. Place them in a medium or large pot. Add the tablespoon of water (you may need another tablespoon of water, depending on how juicy the apples are as they cook). Add the sugar and cinnamon and stir. Heat the apple mixture over medium heat until the apples cook down a little and the sauce begins to bubble. Then reduce the heat to medium-low. As the apples cook and soften, stir them and break them with a wooden spoon periodically. After about 30 minutes of simmering, the apples should be very soft and as you break/mash them with the wooden spoon, they should be forming a sauce. The sauce is done when the apples are soft enough to be mashed into a chunky, hearty sauce. Serve warm in a bowl or as a topping for waffles or oatmeal, or refrigerate and serve cold. Enjoy!