Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sort of Asian Soup!

This is for Nezu, who asked me for something without eggplant, tomatoes, or pepper of any kind.  Okay, this has red pepper flakes, but you could certainly delete them and substitute more ginger!  I'm sure, Nezu, that you have other ideas for spicing things up, since you've lived with this forever!  Might horseradish work?  If you use this, I think I'd omit the thyme, but you'd have to taste it to know!)  As for me, I really love this soup! And I buy a large head of my vegetable choice, and I use the rest for Kung Pao, as in "Kung Pao Cabbage," e.g.  MMMMM! 

1 Tbl. canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diagonally sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced into 3/4" - 1" pieces
4 cans vegetable broth (I use Swanson's)
1 Tbl. freshly grated (or finely minced) ginger--about 1 1/4" - 1 1/2" of a 1" diameter root (Marste introduced me to a microplane grater!  Boy, does this make life easier!  Ha!)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves (or 1 1/2 tsp. fresh!)  (I know this sounds odd--just trust me!)
3 Tbl. soy sauce
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes (mild; 1/4-medium; 1/2 hot!)
1 small head bok choy, Chinese cabbage, or green cabbage, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 lb. frozen vegetarian meatballs
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

OPTIONAL:  1 8-oz. can sliced water chestnuts, drained (adds crunch)
1 15-oz. can baby corn, drained (adds color and fun!)

Heat oil in a soup pot.  Add the onion, and cook over medium heat until it's soft.  Add garlic and celery, and continue cooking until the celery is soft.  Add the green onions and broth.  Add the ginger thyme, soy sauce, and pepper flakes (or other spicy seasoning, Nezu!  :)).  Simmer until it's fragrant.

Add the cabbage-family vegetable, and cook until it's crisp-tender.  Add the meatballs, and cook until they're thawed and heated through--if the broth is bubbling, it's heated!  Turn off the heat, and add the oil and cilantro, stir them in, and serve.

This is a thick soup because of the vegetables and meatballs.  If you like a thinner soup, add a can, or two, of broth!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Practically Pasta Primavera

I love pasta in pretty much any way, shape or form. Pasta Primavera is one of my favorite things to eat, and it’s a great way to get a big helping of vegetables in the bargain. Most of the time I eat Pasta Primavera cold: some defrosted frozen veggies, leftover noodles, and some olive oil and lemon juice. But traditionally it’s served warm (with fresh vegetables, not frozen, LOL), as below. I added Mozzarella cheese to the recipe below, so this is a tiny bit heavier than traditional Primavera, but it comes out great. If you need more protein, you could add a pound of meat of your choice: chicken is easy and would be good, but shrimp would be FANTASTIC in this. If you do that, the recipe should serve closer to 10 people.

The Recipe:
Serves 6-8

3 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into bite-size pieces
1 large yellow squash (aka summer squash), halved lengthwise and sliced into bite-size pieces
24 oz. cherry tomatoes: 12 oz whole, 12 oz halved (I use 2 of the little bags of “Nature Sweet” on the vine)
1 red pepper, cut into thin strips
1 yellow pepper, cut into thin strips
1 orange pepper, cut into thin strips
½ small package frozen green beans*
15 baby carrots (the ready-to-eat kind in the packages)*
2 cloves garlic, minced, OR 1 tps garlic powder
½ cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 pound pasta, regular or whole-wheat (farfalle/bowtie, penne/little tubes, fusilli/corkscrews – something that will hold sauce – NOT long thin noodles)
8 oz. ovolini mozzarella OR 8 oz. whole milk mozzarella, cut into ¾-inch pieces
grated Parmesan cheese for topping
(Note: if you want to add protein to this, add a pound of cooked large shrimp.)

*Or ½ package Trader Joe’s Brittany Blend, in the frozen food aisle.

Preheat the oven to 400F. In a large baking pan, combine the whole tomatoes with the zucchini, summer squash, peppers, beans and carrots with the garlic and olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper and stir to combine. Bake for 40 minutes, stirring once.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender (about 8 minutes at a rolling boil). Drain, reserving 1 ladleful of the cooking liquid.

Add the roasted veggies and halved tomatoes to the pasta pot, along with the pasta, pasta water and the mozzarella. Mix thoroughly. The cheese will begin to break down a little bit, getting soft and gooey around the edges, but it won’t melt completely. (That’s how it’s supposed to be.)

Serve topped with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What I Ate for Dinner: Chinese-Style Soup – AKA Marste’s Soul Food

When I have a stomachache or cramps, or when I’m tired and weepy, or when I’m just emotionally exhausted and need to feel taken care of, this is what I eat. The ingredients vary – the recipe below is LITERALLY what I ate for dinner Thursday night – but it almost always includes garlic, ginger, onions, beef broth and soy sauce. (Sometimes that’s ALL it contains.)

The rest of the ingredients change depending on what I have in the fridge at the moment. I’ve used bok choy (fantastic), crab (well, imitation crab, anyway), beef, ground turkey (the consistency was weird on that one, though), carrots, green beans, lettuce (yes, really – it was good, too!), chopped celery (also good!), tomatoes, mushrooms – whatever is in the fridge.

What you see below is what I had in the fridge last night, so it’s what I had for dinner. As written, it won’t serve many, but you can just double it to feed a family. The whole thing, start to finish, took me about 15 minutes. Yes, really.

The Recipe:
Serves 2

½ Tbs canola oil
1 clove garlic, minced OR ½ tsp garlic powder
¼ cup frozen, pre-chopped onion
¼ tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp 5-spice powder
1 Tbs low- sodium soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
2 cups beef broth
1 handful frozen broccoli
1 or 2 pre-cooked chicken breasts, chopped (I use Trader Joe’s grilled chicken strips)
2 handfuls raw spinach (prepared)
½ package Chinese rice noodles (optional)

On the side:
chili paste
sesame oil

If you’re using noodles, prepare those first. Boil them according to the package directions, and drain them. (Don’t worry about them getting cold; we’re going to pour boiling soup over them in a minute.)

In a pan, heat the canola oil. Add the garlic, onion, ginger and 5-spice powder, and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce, and beef broth and bring just to a boil. Add the frozen broccoli and the chicken and bring back to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer about 3-5 minutes, until the chicken is hot in the middle. Add the raw spinach and stir just until it wilts, about 15 seconds.

If you’re using noodles, portion the noodles out into bowls and pour the broth over the top. Otherwise just dish yourself up some soup!

Serve with vinegar, chili paste and sesame oil on the side, and let each person doctor their soup to taste.

Yeah. I know it looks a lot like this one. I had a lot of the same (visible) ingredients on hand. The spices are different though, so it doesn't TASTE the same. Really. ;)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Balsamic-Roasted Tomatoes with Mushrooms and Spinach

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup olive or canola oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

2 cups grape tomatoes
1 Tbl. olive or canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced (or 3 cubes, 3 tsp. jarred, or 3/8 tsp. garlic powder)
16 large mushrooms, wiped and sliced
1/4 cup water
1/2 lb. fresh baby spinach
2 Tbl. chopped fresh basil

Spread tomatoes on cookie sheet, and drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.  Roast at 450 degrees for 15-17 minutes, or until they pop.  Remove from oven, and set aside.

In a large pan, heat oil.  Sauté garlic until soft.  Add mushrooms and water, and cook until "crisp-tender," about 10 minutes, or so.  Add spinach and stir into mushrooms.  Cook, stirring frequently, until spinach is wilted.  Add basil, and mix it into the mushrooms and spinach.  Using a spatula or slotted spoon, move the tomatoes from the cookie sheet to the pan.  Stir just a bit to mix things.  Spoon either into a serving bowl or onto plates.  Drizzle with a little balsamic vinaigrette, and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lazy Cherry Vanilla Bread Pudding

I love bread pudding. This is one of those recipes, like French Toast, that housewives came up with to use stale bread. When times are tight, you can’t afford to let half a loaf of bread mold or turn so stale that no one will eat it, and when this recipe originated, most women (and it was mostly women, not men) were still baking their own bread. So they came up with a number of recipes to use up everything they had, even when the bread was no longer considered fit to eat. (Um. Their standards were higher than mine. I’ll eat bread in pretty much any form, and if it’s stale, I just toast it!)

This recipe results in a drier, more traditional consistency, although I have to admit that I like mine better a little custardy-ier. I’m still working on getting that custard consistency though, and this is pretty darn tasty in the meantime.

The Recipe
½ loaf white bread (brioche is best, but any good white bread will do)
1 ½ cups dry vanilla cake mix
2 cups whole milk (whole is important because nonfat will taste weird in this)
1 cup dried cherries (or other dried fruit of your choice)

In a 9x12 baking pan, tear the bread into smallish pieces, about ½ - 1 inch each. In a separate bowl, mix together the cake mix and milk until smooth. Add the cherries and mix again. Pour the liquid/cherry mixture over the bread and gently squash the bread with the back of a spoon to make sure it’s all saturated. Cover with foil and allow to sit for about 15 minutes on the counter.

Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes, or until you can smell it. Remove it from the oven and allow it to sit for 15 minutes to set.

Serve warm with either vanilla ice cream or Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” ice cream.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What I Ate for Dinner: Clams and Brittany Beans from Trader Joe's

I came up with this entirely by accident. I had some stuff in the freezer, but nothing to make an “official” recipe. So I threw it all into a bowl together and zapped it, and it turned out better than I expected!

The Recipe:
Serves 2

1 package Trader Joe’s Steamed Clams in White Wine and Garlic
1 package Trader Joe’s Brittany Beans (a mixture of green beans, wax beans and carrots) or Fritto Misto (eggplant and zucchini in olive oil)
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Microwave the clams according to the package directions. While they heat, pour the beans into a microwave-save bowl. Remove the clams from the microwave and set them aside while you zap the beans (about 4 minutes, stir, zap 2 more minutes).

Put half the beans in a bowl and pour half the clams (with sauce) over them. Top with Parmesan cheese (and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes if you like).

It’s fast and easy, and looks good enough to feed your date!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Vegetable Chili

This recipe is for my daughter, Chelsea, who is now on her own with no Mom to make it for her!  She requested it!  Ha!

I arrived at this recipe after I became a vegetarian, because my family loves chili, and they mourned its passing without taking into account that chili is also one of my favorites!  This is the end result, and we all agree that it tastes great and feels like "regular" chili in your mouth!  (I served it to my meat-and-potatoes dad, and he insisted I was wrong and that it had meat in it.  He wasn't kidding, which made it really funny!)

I highly recommend a food processor for this, if you're as impatient as I am!  On the other hand, my brother, Mark, and his wife, Kathy, happily chop together as they talk to each other!  They do this, they told me, because they love this chili, and they make it often.  

Like many of us, they're looking for tasty ways to include more vegetables in their diet, and they say that this is a favorite, not only of theirs, but also of friends and neighbors with whom they've shared it.

1 eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 Tbl. salt
1-2 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium-to-large onions, finely chopped
4 zucchini, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced (or 1 frozen cube, 1 tsp. jarred, or 1/8 tsp. garlic powder)
1 28-oz. can peeled, diced tomatoes, undrained (or 2 14.5-oz, cans)
2 c. tomato, or V8, juice
1 c. vegetable broth
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 Tbl. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
Cayenne pepper:  1/8 tsp.--mild, 1/4 tsp.--medium, or 1/2 tsp.--hot!
2 Tbl. dried basil
1 Tbl. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground black pepper
3 tsp. unprocessed (gray-colored) sea salt, OR 1 1/2 tsp. regular salt
Garnishes:  shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped green onions

Chop the eggplant and soak it in water with 1 Tbl. salt for 20-30 minutes.  Drain and rinse. 

In a large soup pot, sauté the eggplant in the olive oil over medium heat until it's tender.  (You might need to add a bit more oil during cooking.  The higher the cooking heat, the less oil is absorbed.  If you're willing to stand there and watch and stir it constantly so it doesn't burn, this is a great way to go!)  With a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to a plate.

Add olive oil to the pot, if it's dry.  Toss in the onions, zucchini, and garlic, sautéing until tender.  Add the eggplant.  Add everything else except the garnishes.  Simmer for 30-60 minutes, or until the chili tastes great!

CAUTION:  Since vegetables can become mush, you don't want to cook this chili all day!  An hour is about right, not only for the taste, but also for the mouth feel, which I think is important!  I cooked it all day once, thinking it needed cooking like regular chili, and I served it to guests!  Ha!  Nobody asked me for the recipe that time!  LOL!

Serve topped with the garnishes!  Enjoy!  

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back to Basics: Risotto

Risotto gets a bad rep. It’s really simple, but it’s one of those things that so many people I talk to think is complicated and time-consuming, when nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a quick side dish, or an impressive main dish (if you add protein and other ingredients), and you can probably make the basic version with what’s already in your cupboard/fridge. (Ok, you might have to buy Arborio rice the first time out. Trust me on this: it’s the best with Arborio rice. Other rice will work, even pearl barley can be prepared with this method, but nothing will have quite the smooth creaminess of Arborio rice. I’m just sayin’.)

Just FYI, except for the bacon and wine, the recipe below is SUPER basic. I added the pancetta/bacon because I had some, and you can use 2 cups of stock instead of a mixture of wine and stock.

The Recipe:
Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main dish

1 Tbs olive oil
½ large onion (or ½ cup frozen chopped onion)
4 oz pancetta or bacon, chopped (if using bacon, about 4 thick-cut strips)
½ cup Arborio rice
½ cup white wine
1 ½ cup low-sodium chicken stock*
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs cold butter (if you’re using bacon or pancetta, use unsalted butter)*

*The low-sodium part is important, because as it reduces, the salty flavor will intensify in the rice. Same for the butter.

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and the onion, and sauté until the onion becomes translucent and the bacon begins to crisp. Add the rice and continue to sauté for a few minutes more, until the rice is translucent around the edges, and the bacon is crisp.

Add the wine to the chicken broth and microwave the mixture until it’s hot. Reduce the saucepan heat to low, and add the hot broth/wine mixture to the pot, about 1/3 cup at a time. After each third of a cup, give it a good stir and continue to stir it every few minutes, letting the rice absorb the liquid before adding any more.

When most of the liquid has been absorbed, leaving behind only a vague, saucy-looking bit and the rice is chewy but not mushy, take it off the heat. Add the Parmesan cheese and butter and stir.

If you want to garnish it, sprinkle a little extra cheese on top, like the picture below.

Serve ASAP – this is not a dish that gets better sitting on the counter. ;)

Friday, April 10, 2009

What I Ate for Dinner: Breakfast Time!

This is what I eat for breakfast, Monday-Friday (and sometimes on the weekends, too!). I started eating this when I started trying to eat a LOT more protein, and it has just enough junk-food associations to be something I'm willing to eat first thing in the morning. (I've always been someone who prefers biscuits and gravy to oatmeal for breakfast. I can't STAND fat-free carbs for breakfast: they upset my stomach like WHOA.)

I don't normally post nutritional breakdowns, but since I did this specifically to get the nutritional content, I happen to know these (approximate) numbers:
Calories: 270
Carbs: Beats me. Not very many, that's for sure.
Protein: 40 grams. Yeah, you read that right. FORTY. GRAMS. (But I'm NEVER hungry before lunch anymore, so that's nice.)
Fat: 7-10 grams, depending on how much non-stick spray you use.

The Recipe:
Non-stick spray
3/4 cup egg substitute (or 3 whole eggs, though that changes the nutritional info above)
1 slice Veggie cheese, American flavor
2 slices Jennie-O Turkey Ham*
Salt and pepper

Spray some non-stick spray into a microwave-safe bowl and pour in 3/4 cup of egg substitute. (You can use 3 real eggs, but then you have to crack and scramble. I'm in a hurry in the morning, so I stick with substitute.) Microwave for about 2 minutes.

While that zaps, put your ham on a plate. When the eggs are done, put the ham in the microwave (COVERED!) for 1 minute.

While the ham zaps, tear the Veggie cheese into bits and throw it in the eggs with some salt and pepper. Mix the whole thing together with a fork. (It's ok if the eggs are still a little runny - they're going back into the microwave.)

Take the ham out, and put the egg mixture back in for 1 minute.

Take the eggs out, use the fork to stir the "cheese" in, and dump them on your plate with the ham.

Eat fast, you're running late! ;)

*Note: the ham requires advance planning. I buy the Jennie-O Turkey ham in a package as close to 2 lb as I can, then cut it into 16 as-equal-as-possible slices (the nutritional breakdown on the package is for 2 oz of "ham", so it evens out). I pack the slices in sandwich bags, 4 to a bag, and put them in the freezer. Then I just pull a bag out and throw it in the fridge when I use the last of the bag that was ALREADY in the fridge. It's thawed by the next morning.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What I Ate for Dinner, Redux

So remember this post? Yeah. We haven't been so great about posting to that category (or at least *I* haven't - it was my bright idea, so I won't hold Mom to posting it). ;)

But last week when we were away, I remembered to program a post. And that made me feel like maybe, just MAYBE I was going to be ok and consistent about things. Woo-hoo! So I'm resurrecting this category as a permanent fixture.

I'll post something every Friday under "What I Ate for Dinner." It won't always be dinner, and often it won't really be "recipes," per se. It will be more the kind of thing where you can buy a couple of packages of things and throw them together for a quickie, last-minute meal. There will probably be heavy use of the microwave, since that's a quick and easy way to heat things up.

And it won't necessarily be "dinner," either. Tomorrow I'm posting breakfast (for instance). But whatever it is, it will show up on Fridays, and it will be something dead easy. No complicated recipes here. (And like I said, usually things I wouldn't really consider "recipes" at all.)

So come on back tomorrow! :D

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rosemary Potatoes

Easter is this Sunday, so I thought I'd offer this potato dish to accompany your ham, turkey, or other meat dinner.  Since I'm a vegetarian, and since I dislike cooking the same blasted "holiday meal" every year--it's boring!--we're probably going to have chili, which my youngest daughter, Chelsea, asked me to post.  I'll do it next week!  In the meantime, I'll take this dish over to my dad's, who hates it when I DON'T cook the regular stuff!  LOL!  Poor Dad!

We all like this very much, and my daughters actually ask for it periodically--usually when they need comfort food!  AND it's really easy!

It's actually an adaptation of a fried potato dish, which I thought took too long to prepare.  This is equally great-tasting, my oven does the work, and clean up is a lot easier!

6 medium red, white, or brown potatoes, thinly sliced (I used my food processor) and rinsed
1 Tbs. fresh rosemary, or 1 1/2 tsp. dried, either of them finely chopped
3 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Lay the potato slices in a 9 x 13 casserole dish, which has been sprayed with canola oil spray.

Melt the butter.  (In a 900-watt microwave, one minute at 30% power melts it without causing it to overflow.)  Stir in the rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Pour this over the potatoes, and toss them to distribute the butter mix.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

If you're using this as a main dish, it goes well with garlic bread and steamed brussel sprouts with Veggie Dressing.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach Stir-Fry (Inspired by PF Chang's)

Mom and I spent the last week at a film convention in Las Vegas. It was fun for the first day and a half, but then I started to feel like if I had to visit another buffet full of steak and pasta, someone was going to get hurt. I needed some vegetables BADLY. Fortunately, we found a PF Chang's at the hotel next door, where it turned out Mom and I could order sides of vegetables - and they even LOOKED like vegetables! None of that warmed-over, brownish-green, overcooked crap. So this is my not-so-faithful-but-still-damn-tasty merging of a couple of their vegetable dishes. ;)

You can use this recipe with pretty much any vegetable you have on hand. Broccoli would be really good, as would edamame. Bell peppers and onions would work, along with baby corn, water chestnuts, green beans, cabbage, chopped carrots . . . pretty much any vegetable you can think of. AND it’s a great way to use up raw leafy greens that haven’t quite gone bad, but that are a little old to use in a salad.

If you serve this with rice, you can stretch this to 6 good-sized servings, or 8 smaller ones. Without rice, figure 4 large servings or 6 smaller ones.

The Recipe:
2 tsp canola oil
1 tbs butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1 inch fresh ginger, grated*
1 10-oz package sliced mushrooms (crimini)
1 lb pre-cooked chicken strips
12-16 oz fresh spinach
¼ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Melt the butter and canola oil in a pan. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until garlic is golden. Add the mushrooms and cook over medium-low heat until mushrooms are soft, and release their juices.

(If you’re making the sauce below, now is the time: while the mushrooms soften.)

Add the chicken and red pepper flakes (if using) and heat through.

Add the spinach, a couple of handfuls at a time, stirring as you go. As soon as the spinach cooks down, add more. The idea is for it to be wilted, but not soggy.

You can leave it this way, or if you like, you can add the sauce (below). If you’re serving this over rice, put the rice on the plate, then the chicken mixture, then pour some sauce over the whole thing. If you’re not serving rice, just pour all the sauce into the chicken pan and give it a good stir. :)

*Note: Ginger can be a real pain in the ass. The easy way to grate fresh ginger? Go to the store and buy a ginger root. Cut it into pieces roughly 1 to 1.5 inches each, then toss them all in a sandwich bag and put the bag in the freezer. When you need some fresh ginger, grab a grater with teeny little holes (I use this Microplane grater) and grate the frozen ginger, peel and all, right over the pan/pot. Works like a charm, and it's dead easy. None of that mucking around, trying to peel the freakin' ginger. FanTAStic.

Stir-fry Sauce:
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup water
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
Chili paste (optional)
Chinese hot mustard (optional)

Combine soy sauce, water, sugar and vinegar in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, just enough to heat lightly. Mix ingredients together until sugar is melted.

Taste. Little by little, tasting as you go, add chili paste and hot mustard to taste. (Did I mention that you should taste as you go? ;D) If by chance you get too much spice in the sauce, just add a splash of white vinegar to calm it down.

Since I'm not a big rice person, I just poured the sauce into the pan, and then the whole mixture into a bowl. Like this:

YUM. That is all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vegetable Barley Soup

I ALWAYS use a food processor when I'm making a soup--or anything else!--that has a lot of chopped, diced, minced, etc. vegetables and condiments. The time it takes me to wash my food processor (it does go in the dishwasher, but the dishwasher clouds the bowl and dulls the blades!) is far less than the time I spend chopping all this stuff! Plus, I've noticed that, by the time it's cooked, I can't tell much difference in the appearance of the vegetable shapes between hand chopping and food processor chopping. And my mouth and stomach CERTAINLY don't notice! Ha!

1 Tbl. olive or canola oil

1 medium onion, chopped 3-4 stalks celery, diced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
6 medium carrots (about 36 "baby" carrots), chopped

2 broccoli crowns or 15-20 broccoli florets (or a medium peeled turnip!), chopped

12 oz. frozen green beans (I've also substituted 1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms, when Jenna ISN'T here!)
8 cups vegetable broth

1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 heaping tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. caraway seeds (These are important, because they don't add flavor, but they DO make the barley and vegetables much, much easier to digest!)

1/4 cup regular pearled barley (There are bags of this in grocery stores, but for this small amount, you can also find it in bulk bins in health food stores and some grocery stores.)
2 cups frozen, chopped spinach (You can also use a 5 oz. bag of fresh, or a bunch of fresh, and chop it or cut it into strips.)

*SEE NOTE! In a large soup pot sprayed with cooking spray, heat the oil, and add the onion, celery, and carrots. Cook this for a few minutes, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic, and sauté a bit longer. Add the broccoli, and cook about 5 minutes, or until the broccoli has softened. Add the green beans.

Add the broth, tomatoes, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaf, and caraway seeds. Add the barley, and cook until the barley's done, about 45 minutes.

Add the spinach, and heat through.

This is a great stand-alone meal, or, if I'm serving it to others, I add salad with bleu cheese or balsamic vinaigrette, depending on my mood!, and (maybe) garlic bread.

*NOTE: This takes less time to cook if it's broken up and cooked in smaller quantities, in the form of "add-ons." If you have more time and less inclination to do the adding in, just toss everything in together and simmer it until it's done! A couple of hours will do it, and it's better if it's simmered longer!

Also, you can use quick-cooking barley, which takes about 10-15 minutes to cook. I prefer regular, because I like the thought of less processing! This is funny, if you think about all the frozen vegetables I use! So, I'm compromising between prep time--fresh takes a LOT more prep--and taste--fresh tastes better! Amazingly, my family and neighbors--they're my "guinea pigs," so to speak--don't seem to care one way or the other! Ha!