Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pretty Spring Edible Flower Lollipops-Sweet, Charming and Easier Than You Think

I love how after a long dreary cold spell the snow fades away, the days lengthen, and finally, the early perennial flowers like snowdrops and violets start to poke through the earth and bloom again.  They are an early sign that what some societies still call “the starving time,” due to empty larders is past. The first blooms are my favorite harbingers of spring, reminding me that we’ll soon be reveling in fresh bountiful crops like strawberries and rhubarb and rejuvenating in warm, sunny days.

Because I’ve marked the retreat of winter by watching the garden my whole life, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate the changing of the seasons than with homemade lollipops decorated with  edible garden flowers. To stay in tune with the natural world, I always like to come up with pastry decorating ideas that rely on only edible flowers and natural botanical colors and that avoid all the risks of artificial food dyes. Often, I make dye-free decorated bunny-shaped cookies or marshmallows to give my grandkids. But I decided to try for something more unusual this year—I’m pleased with the results, so will definitely be making these again.

The clear, free-form candy pops instantly form paperweight-like cases that capture and show off the shades and graceful shapes of the petals and flowers. For the lollipops here I featured organically grown dainty-faced pansies and Johnny-jump-ups and bits of dried rose petals saved from last summer’s garden. My next batch of lollipops will spotlight woodland violets, which are also edible and which in another week or so will be popping up in my shade garden. These wildflowers also appear in the woods all over America in April and May. 

 I prepped the pansies by placing them between triple thicknesses of paper towels, then weighting them down and flattening them under a heavy book overnight. This step is particularly important for violets, which will otherwise not lie flat enough to be completely covered with the candy “glass.”
 If you look closely you’ll notice that the lollipop “glass” is faintly tinted with a pale purple; the color is botanically based and completely natural. I used the Color Garden brand of botanical food dye, which is available online and at Whole Foods. Use whatever tinting color you like and also consider this touch completely optional; the clear, uncolored lollipops are very pretty, too.

In case you are wondering, the flowers have very little taste and most people eat the flecks without even noticing. Others like to deliberately bite off and munch the petals. And still others prefer to carefully break off the pieces with the flowers and discard them.

Spring Edible Flower  Lollipops

You’ll  need a candy thermometer for this recipe. The other special items required are the lollipop sticks.  And, of course, you do need the edible, organically grown  flowers, which can include  pansies, roses, pinks, and wild woodland violets. (Note that African violet houseplants are not the same as wild violets and are not edible.)

Lollipop sticks are usually stocked in the cake and pastry decorating sections of discount department stores and in some craft stores or kitchen shops. In a pinch, use wooden Popsicle sticks instead—the lollipops won’t look quite as elegant, but kids never care! 

Also, expect the pops to come out in natural free-form shapes rather than perfectly round. Even on a tray with a perfectly flat surface, the molten syrup tends to run out unevenly. But the randomness just contributes to the charming homemade look. 

There is one important caveat to always remember when making these lollipops or any other hard candy: The boiling sugar mixture is extremely hot. Never try to touch it or taste it while cooking or pouring. And take care never to splash it on your skin. If it drips on the counter top or stove, wipe it off with a wet, warm cloth, never your hand.

If you have it, use a heavy cooking pot with a lip for pouring. This will facilitate pouring the molten candy from the pot. 

Assorted small edible flowers and petals, such as organic pansies, roses, or woodland violets
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon raspberry extract, rose extract, or lemon extract
Drops of botanical food dye, optional
Ready the flowers or petals by gently but thoroughly washing and patting them dry. Flatten by placing them between triple thicknesses of paper towels, then weighting them down under a heavy book or stack of books overnight or longer. Very gently peel them from the paper before using.

Set out a 2-cup heat-proof glass measure. Set out a very large flat tray or baking sheet (or 2 smaller sheets) and line with heavy-duty foil.  Place 12 to 15 lollipop sticks on the foil, spacing to allow for the candy to spread out to at least 2 1/2 inches in diameter and preferably more. Place the flowers or petals attractively around the top end of the sticks. Set out a heat-proof bowl of ice water.

In a heavy medium-sized saucepan thoroughly stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Cover the pot and let the trapped steam wash any sugar crystals from the pot sides for 2 minutes; lift up the pot from the heat and swirl the mixture several times. Remove the lid. With a wet pastry brush or damp paper towel, wipe away any sugar crystals clinging to the pan sides.

Continue cooking, never stirring, but lifting and swirling the pan to redistribute the syrup every minute or so. When the syrup has boiled down about 5 minutes, start checking with the candy thermometer. As soon as the syrup register 305 degrees F, immediately remove the pot from the heat. Quickly add the extract and drops of botanical dye (if using) and swirl the pan until blended in fairly well. Immediately set the pan in the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and lower the temperature; let stand for 5 minutes, lifting and swirling the pan several times. Carefully turn out the cooling syrup  into the 2-cup measure.

Start forming the lollipops by pouring the syrup over the center tops of the lollipop sticks;  sure not to touch the mixture. Continue at a steady pace until all the pops are formed. If at any point the syrup cools and stiffens too much to pour, place the measure in the microwave oven and reheat the mixture for 5 to 10 seconds, or until it is just fluid again. Don't try to scrap out any left in the cup, as it may turn gritty and cloudy. When all the pops are done, slide the baking sheet into a refrigerator and let the candies cool and chill thoroughly.Then, gently peel each one from the foil as needed. Wrap them individually in non-stick clear plastic wrap or special hard candy wrappers. Stored in a cool dry spot, they will keep for several months.

Makes 12 to 15 2 1/4 to 2 1/2-inch lollipops.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Real Stove-Top Popcorn Three Ways--Fresh, Tasty, Additive-Free & Regular, Low-fat, & Spicy

I have come full circle with popping popcorn.

When I was a small child, we made popcorn by getting out a large cast-iron pot and heating what was called “salad oil” in it.  We’d add in a couple test kernels, and when they popped, we’d toss in enough corn to cover the pan bottom. Once the popping started we’d shake the pot, then, to avoid burning the kernels snatch it off the heat as soon as all the thumping and snapping stopped.

The finishing touch was to simply drizzle over and stir in melted butter and salt, resulting in a delicious snack that was completely free of artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives. Nobody at our house ever incorporated any of today’s usual extras, like Parmesan or herbs, either. My mother wasn’t into seasoning with herbs and she didn’t keep Parmesan in the house. I don’t think anybody else in the community gussied up popcorn either; it just wasn’t done in those days.

TV Time Popcorn--a popcorn kit
My popcorn prepping ritual changed a lot following the arrival of televisions and a product called TV Time Popcorn. This was a handy “time-saver” kit containing a packet of solid yellowish fat on one side, and one with corn and salt on the other. Perhaps because it was heavily advertised on the television shows for kids, I thought this dual pouch packaging was incredibly cool. (Interestingly, I recently read that TV Time company spent so much on advertising that it went bankrupt several times!)

It was just so much fun to squeeze the hardened, butter-flavored lump--described as “the finest imported nut oil” on the label--out into the pot and watch it melt. (I now suspect that this fat was either hydrogenated coconut or palm kernel oil; nobody knew about the drawbacks of hydrogenation and highly saturated fats then.) It was quite liberating to be able to skip the measuring and just tear open the packet and empty the kernels and salt into the pot. The popcorn kits were more expensive, and maybe the pop corn didn’t taste quite as good, but I adored the novelty of it.

The next big popcorn-making advance I recall involved doing away with the big cooking pot. This happened after microwave ovens and ready-to-pop microwavable bags appeared on the scene.  My friends and I loved setting the bag inside, then peering through the glass screen and watching it rise up and inflate as the corn popped. There was always a sense of daring and excitement associated with this, because at that time some consumer safety experts and assorted microwave-phobic worry warts were still warning that if you got too close to the viewing window the microwaves might escape, and zap your eyes or cause your head to explode! (Today, experts say that small amounts of radiation can escape from around some microwave doors, but not in quantities large enough to pose a risk and definitely not in amounts that could blow off your head.  Still, I’m now wishing I hadn’t gotten so close.)

I stuck with microwaved popcorn for several decades. After I married and had a family, I’d grab a package and ready it for my son and his playmates to eat while they watched TV. But, truthfully, the product never really seemed like an improvement—it was convenient but at the sacrifice of aroma or taste. Once my son went off to college, I got out of the habit of fixing popcorn at all.

Now, I’m  back to making stove-top popcorn again. I like preparing it from scratch so I'm sure it's fresh and free of artificial flavors, colors, and other additives. I buy a plain, unseasoned yellow corn and cook it in a large, heavy pot, just like we used to. (I've tried the eye-catching multi-colored kernels, but the corn, which is pricy, still comes out the usual white.) These days, I usually cook the corn in olive oil, and I am more careful about how much of it I use.

By adding the minimum amount needed to pop the corn without scorching and omitting the optional butter, I turn out a light, healthful, really satisfying snack that's also quick to make. Yes, I know that air popped, oil-free, salt-free is even healthier. But air-popped corn reminds me of styrofoam--I just can't eat it!  The modest amount of oil I use—5 teaspoons per 1/2 cup of unpopped kernels—not only facilitates the popping but brings out the corn flavor and provides enough coating that the salt adheres to the kernels.

Good and Easy Stove-Top Popcorn, Three Ways

This recipe is designed so you can create either a light but tempting butter-free popcorn; or a classic buttered version; or a seasoned one zipped up with a little chili powder. The recipe yields about 2 1/2 quarts of popped corn, and if you omit the butter the whole pot contains only 460 calories.  Which means that a generous 2-cup serving has only 92 calories, and if you can’t stop nibbling and consume a whole quart, the splurge will only cost  you 184 calories. (The chili powder doesn't have enough calories to worry about.)

If you do add the butter, the corn will have 172 calories per 2-cup serving, still not bad compared to many snacks. For example, 2 cups of potato chips have 275 calories, and a modest 1/3 cup serving of dry-roasted nuts or peanuts has about 220 calories.

Tip: I prefer to cook the kernels in olive oil  because it is mostly polyunsaturated and its flavor enhances the taste of the corn. You can certainly substitute corn or safflower oil if preferred, but never try to cook with butter; it will smoke and burn.

5 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup unpopped popcorn
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon table salt, to taste
2 to 3 teaspoons medium to hot chili powder, optional
1/4 cup melted butter, optional

Put the oil and 3 or 4 test kernels in a 3  1/2-  to 4-quart heavy pot over medium high heat. Cook until the oil is hot and a test kernel sizzles, then pops. (The oil should never start to smoke, if it does, remove the pot from the burner and lower the heat.) Immediately add the rest of the popcorn. Cover the pot and shake several times to coat all the kernels in the oil. 

When the popping starts, shake the pot frequently to keep the kernels moving. After about a minute of steady popping, turn down the heat a little; this keeps the pot from overheating and burning the last of the kernels. As soon as the popping begins to subside, remove the pan from the stove-top; the heat built up in the pot will still pop the remaining kernels. Remove the lid and gradually sprinkle over the salt (and chili powder, if using) stirring until evenly incorporated throughout. 

For a light, low-cal treat serve as is. For a classic buttered popcorn, simply drizzle 1/4 cup melted butter over the batch, stirring until evenly incorporated. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 10 cups, 5  2-cup servings.

Perhaps you might also like Maple Kettle Corn here.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sun-Dried Tomato Crostini--One Super-Good Super-Bowl Snack That's Also Healthy

I'm convinced that Super Bowl parties are where lots of the very earnest diet resolutions made in January go to die. So many greasy-rich, salty foods get set out and scarfed up on Super Bowl Sunday, we should perhaps call it Super Sinker Sunday instead. In fact, it's said to be the second biggest diet busting event of the American year, right behind our official national feast day, Thanksgiving.

A big part of the problem is the kinds of dishes served. Estimates are that we eat 8 million pounds of guacamole, 14,000 tons of chips, and 4.5 million pizzas while enjoying the nation's most popular sports event. Even more mind blowing, according to the Wall Street Journal, about 1.2 billion Buffalo-style chicken wings get consumed--which statistically means four per person (at about 90 to 100 calories each) for everybody in the U. S. Assuming that some of us aren't eating any wings, others are, to mix metaphors, pigging out on them.

Now, I'm not suggesting anything so radical as doing away with any of your favorite fatty Super Bowl foods. But how about supplying one dish suited for those who want or need to eat sensibly but still yearn for zesty, delicious party fare?  Not only is this antipasto amazingly tasty and easy, but it contains only heart-healthy fat (olive oil) and it's suitable for vegetarians. Skip the light sprinkling of Parmesan, and it is also fine for vegans. If you offer gluten-free crackers along with the toasted bread slices, those who must go gluten-free can enjoy it as well.

Easy Sun Dried Tomato Bruschetta Spread with Crostini

Yes, it’s possible to buy bruschetta spreads, but this one is easy, convenient, healthy, and sooo much tastier and more economical than store-bought. It can be readied well ahead, and the toasted bread slices can too, so the recipe makes excellent party fare. 

Usually crostini are completely prepared ahead and served as passed appetizers, but it’s much easier to simply set out the bruschetta spread with the crisp toasted bread slices and let your company fix their own as desired. Another option: Serve the spread as a dip, along with crisp Italian bread sticks or purchased pita wedges. Or to accommodate guests seriously trying to diet, you can offer an assortment of crudites as well.
To ready the crostini bread slices ahead: Cut a 22-24-inch long (or similar) French bread baguette crosswise on a diagonal into 1/3-inch slices. Brush the slices on both sides with olive oil, adding a very light sprinkling of oregano to the tops, if desired. Place the slices on a parchment-lined large baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree F oven for about 6 minutes on one side, then turn over and bake until beginning to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes longer. Let the crostini cool completely, then pack them in plastic bags and freeze for up to a week. At serving time, let the slices thaw at room temperature. Then wrap them in foil and warm them a few minutes in a low oven, then serve immediately.

 Bruschetta Spread and Accompaniments

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 1/4 cups rinsed and drained canned white cannellini beans or chick peas
1 tablespoon each dried thyme leaves and dried oregano leaves
1 small garlic clove, peeled and chopped, optional
Generous 1/4 teaspoon each coarse salt and black pepper or more to taste

Bowl of diced tomatoes for serving
Small bowl of shredded Parmesan for serving
Warm crostini slices

To ready the spread: In a food processor, combine the oil, sun-dried tomatoes, beans, thyme, oregano, and garlic (if using). Process until the tomatoes are thoroughly chopped and the spread is nearly smooth. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if desired.  Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, in a non-reactive bowl for up to 3 days. Let warm to room temperature before serving.

At serving time, set out the spread and toasted crostini slices. Also set out the tomatoes and Parmesan to use as garnishes. Let guests prepare their own servings.

The recipe makes about 1 cup bruschetta spread, enough for a 22-inch long baguette, sliced. Double the spread recipe and bread if desired.

For another yummy tomato recipe, try the roasted tomato winter soup here.

For another, not too decadent, yet delish party munchy, check out my maple kettle corn recipe here.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lavender Lovers' Baking 101: Luscious Icing and Cookie How-To

I just returned from a U.S. Lavender Growers conference. My head is still spinning from all I learned, the many friendly people I met, and discovering more of the incredible charms of lavender. In our kick-off event, we sampled lavender champagne punch and other assorted lavender goodies, including spiced pecans and cheese straws, herbes de Provence-seasoned goat cheese spread, and several of my lavender cookies. (They disappeared quickly and several people asked for my recipes, so I've shared one of them below.)

The conference spotlighted many aspects of this enchanting herb: We watched an inspiring video featuring lavender plants, gardens, and picturesque farms of some of the organization's members. We compared the distinct aromas of different types of lavenders and talked about which ones are better for crafting, turning into lavender oil, and using fresh and dried for culinary purposes. (In case you're wondering, several attendees particularly recommended Buena Vista, Royal Velvet, and three pink lavenders, Melissa, Hidcote Pink, and Little Lottie for cooking and baking. I've personally cooked and baked with the well-known Hidcote and Provence and suggest them as well.)

A group of us also attended a workshop on how to identify the various kinds. Fifty different varieties were laid out on long tables, literally filling the room with their haunting fragrance. As you can see the photo at left, lavender comes in a whole beautiful array of subtly different colors, sizes and shapes. Though I loved the look of the deep purple and blue types, after smelling several pink ones and noticing their citrusy sweet scents, I'm definitely going to grow some to cook with this coming summer. I won't give up the deep purple kinds though, because in some recipes, like jellies, sorbets, and syrups, they impart a bit of appealing soft pinkish-purple color.

If you love lavender desserts and sweet treats, but haven't been sure how to make them, this post will help you get started using dried lavender buds. Begin by being sure the buds (the tiny flower parts shown in the bowls at right), are culinary grade. Note that buds are often harvested and sold for craft purposes only; these shouldn't be eaten. 

 If you don't have time to go purchase the very fresh, high quality dried  culinary buds directly from a local lavender farm, some of them do sell on-line from their own websites. Another option is to purchase through venues like Amazon, Etsy, and e-Bay; several American grown lavender options I like are here and here. Like most herbs lavender loses its flavor and fragrance over time, so plan to replenish your supply after at most a year.

Preparing the icing recipe involves making a lavender infusion like the one shown at right above. In this basic step the dried buds simply steep in a little hot water and gradually infuse it with their flavor. The longer they stand, the more flavorful the infusion will be.

Lavender-Infused Cookie Icing and Natural Sprinkles

Here I've left the icing the faint natural pinkish color created by the lavender-infused water, although it's fine to add a little purple food color if you wish. I try to avoid unnecessary chemical additives due to family allergies, so suggest using natural botanical dyes for coloring foods whenever possible.

One brand of natural vegetable dye that works particularly well is Color Garden; order it here or buy it at Whole Foods. The blue color in the Color Garden line is a lavender blue, but you can turn it purple just by adding a tiny drop of lemon juice as you're making the icing. (The acid reacts with and changes the natural vegetable color pigment.)

The sprinkles on the cookies are also tinted with botanical colors; the ChocolateCraft brand of natural purple crystal sugar is available on-line here.

Tip: It's easy to make lavender sugar cookies to go with this icing using your own favorite sugar cookie recipe. (Or use my tried and true rolled cookie recipe here.) Simply combine 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried culinary lavender buds with about 1/4 cup of the sugar called for in the recipe in a food processor. Grind the mixture until the lavender is in fine bits and has been partially blended into the sugar; this may take 3 or 4 minutes of processing. Then, to remove any coarse lavender bits, sift the mixture through a fine sieve back into the remainder of the sugar, and proceed exactly as directed in the recipe. 

2 tablespoon dried culinary lavender buds
1 teaspoon grated fresh  lemon zest (yellow part of the skin)
2 cups powdered sugar, plus more if needed
2 teaspoons egg white powder, optional
1 teaspoon corn syrup
3 to 4 drops lavender extract or 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
Purple crystal decorating sugar, preferably tinted with botanical dye

For the infusion: Stir the lavender and lemon zest into 2 1/2 tablespoons boiling water. Set aside, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours (refrigerate after 1 hour). Strain the infused liquid into a deep, medium bowl; press down hard on the lavender with a spoon to force through as much liquid as possible.

Add the sugar, egg white powder (if using), corn syrup, and extract (if using) to the bowl. Stir until well combined and smooth. As necessary, a bit at a time, stir in more water or more powdered sugar to obtain desired piping or spreading consistency.

The icing may be used as is, or tinted by stirring in a drop or two of whatever color dye (preferably botanically based) is desired. Spread the icing onto the cookies using a table knife. If decorating with sprinkles, add them right away before the icing sets. Let dry at least 30 minutes and preferably longer before packing airtight.

Makes 3/4 cup icing, enough to completely decorate 40 to 50  2 ½ to 3-inch cookies.

For another lavender recipe you may like, check out my fresh lavender-lemon buttercream here:

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Diet 2 Days a Week, Lose Weight, + Lower Blood Pressure, Risk of Heart Disease

This is the time of year when many of us step on the scales, cringe, and resolve to lose some extra pounds. That's what my hubs and I used to do. But not any more!

For the last year we've been following the 2 day a week diet plan, also known as the 5-2 diet, or fast diet. On our diet days we've been using the recipes that my co-author, Ruth Glick, and I created for our enthusiastically received (5-star Amazon-rated) cookbook, The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook.  Containing 250 pages, 50 color photos (see samples below), 75 well-tested recipes, plus loads of helpful tips, menus, and gluten-free options, our book is available in both Kindle and softcover formats here.
To get a preview of all the recipes, check out the quick YouTube video here.

Chili, 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook
Yes, as the title suggests, the book features low-calorie recipes to use while dieting only two days a week! On the two diet days, you limit calories to 500 (men get 600), but the rest of the week you just eat your normal fare--really! Not only is this plan easier to stay with than traditional everyday regimes, but, surprisingly,  research has shown that it also results in more weight loss. (Which the hubs and I have definitely found to be true.) Ongoing research has also revealed that the plan, which was created by a noted British physician, has other important health benefits, including reducing blood pressure, heart disease, and many other ailments. 

 I first began following the diet when Ruth said it was really working well for her, and asked me to co-author a book of recipes to fit the plan. She'd had trouble finding ones that were tasty and easy, partly because most of the books were British and not geared to American tastes or hectic lifestyles. So, since she and I had created many healthful, low-calorie recipes for major publications such as Rodale and Eating Well in the past, we began creating our own much more satisfying collection of dishes, which I also photographed for the book.)

French Toast, 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook
My husband got interested in trying the diet after I'd lost a couple of pounds on it. This might not sound very impressive--except that I'd been trying, unsuccessfully, to shed those same stubborn pounds for almost 10 years! (I've kept them off, too!)

He started using our recipes and following the plan thirteen months ago and is thrilled with the results. First, he's lost 18 pounds! Even better, when his cardiologist checked his vital signs and blood markers at his last visit, she pronounced them the best they've been in the five years she's been treating him! In fact, his blood pressure, fasting glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides were so much lower than before, she said she planned to look into our book herself. The hubs says he intends to keep going and shed at least another 10 to 15 pounds.

In case you wonder, yes, Ruth and her husband have both lost around 20 pounds using The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook. They say it's easier than an other diet they have ever tried, and they've tried quite a few. My sister has also shed over 20 pounds following the plan, though admits that she doesn't find sticking to the 500 calorie limit on diet days easy!

Spinach-Mushroom-Pasta Soup

Because homemade soups can be not only healthful and calorie-wise, but very satisfying, we've included a nice variety of them in The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook.  This one, a simple Italian-inspired spinach-mushroom-pasta combo, admittedly looks a bit plain, but it is quite fragrant and flavorful. It is easy and also versatile: Substitute instant brown rice for the pasta for a gluten-free version.

Spinach-Mushroom-Pasta Soup

This soup is good made with either vegetable or chicken broth, so can fit well into a vegetarian meal. While fresh basil delivers the best results, the dried herb will do if necessary.

Tip: To streamline recipe preparations, buy sliced fresh mushrooms and washed, ready-to-use bags of fresh spinach leaves.

Makes 4 120-calorie servings, about 1 1/4 cups each.

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
6 cups canned vegetable broth or fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup 1-inch pieces regular or multigrain vermicelli, spaghetti, or other thin pasta (or substitute 1/4 cup instant brown rice for gluten-free dish0
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves or 2 tsp dried basil leaves
1 Tbsp chopped chives or green onions
4 cups (lightly packed) coarsely chopped fresh spinach leaves
2 Tbsp shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a 4-quart saucepan or similar-size soup pot, combine oil and mushrooms. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 6 to 7 minutes or until mushrooms are nicely browned.
2. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute longer. Stir in broth, pasta, and basil, and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat so mixture boils gently, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 7 minutes or until pasta is almost tender. (Multigrain pasta or instant brown rice will take considerably longer than regular pasta.)
3. Stir in spinach and cook, uncovered, until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired. Serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan and fresh basil sprigs, if available. Or refrigerate for later use.
Soup will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 3 weeks.

For a preview of all the dishes in the book, look at the YouTube video here. For another delish and easy lo-cal soup recipe, plus more info on The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook go here.  

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