Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thrifty Tasty Tuesday: Tortellini with Peas

            It was an incredibly busy weekend for me. I was at the theatre most of Saturday and Sunday in preparation for the show I’m directing. It opens in less than two weeks. I doubted I would be able to get my act together enough to write a Thrifty-Tasty-Tuesday for this week. That’s the challenge with healthy eating, isn’t it? It’s easy to eat healthy when you have all the time in the world to chop and simmer. But for most of us, time is as valuable as money. So I realized this was a week that I most needed to test the bounds of TTT.
            When I was a kid, my mother made something she called Piselle e Pasta—a fancy name for a simple dish of peas and small shell shaped pasta. She’d toss in some sautéed onion and ham if there was any leftover. My version, using tortellini is very tasty, super easy and has only four ingredients. My kids love it and I can throw dinner together in a matter of minutes and still get to rehearsal (or Cub Scouts or baseball practice) on time.

Tortellini with Peas

1 16-ounce package of frozen peas
2 13-ounce packages of frozen cheese tortellini
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, plus additional for serving
1/4-cup olive oil
  • Cook peas according to package directions.
  • Cook tortellini in salted water for one minute less than the package directions indicate.
  • When tortellini is almost cooked, use a measuring cup to remove about 1/2 cup of cooking water.
  • Drain tortellini.
  • In the pot you cooked the tortellini, pour olive oil.
  • Return the tortellini to the pot with peas, cheese and 1/4 cup of cooking water
  • Cook for another minute or so, stirring gently until the cheese, water & olive oil become a slightly creamy sauce. If the tortellini seems dry, add additional cooking water.
  • Season with a little black pepper and serve

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


            The wedding reception was nearly over and Karen had managed to avoid Henry’s attention. She was struggling with a tray piled high with half-eaten plates of chicken cordon bleu when the ladies room door opened.
            “Excuse me,”  she whispered. “Please! I need help. I got my veil stuck in my zipper!”
            Karen nearly dropped the tray when she made eye contact with the bride.
            “Do you want me to get one of your bridesmaids? Or maybe your mother?”
            “Can you just come in and help? I tried to find someone when it was time to change out of my wedding gown, but all my friends seem to have snuck off with groomsmen. And I think my mother had too much to drink,” she added as her face turned red.
            “Well, I know what that’s like,” Karen muttered. “Hang on a second. Let me put this tray somewhere. I don’t want to get food on your dress.”
            “Thank you!”
            When Karen returned the bride was repairing the damage to her makeup her tears had caused.
            “Don’t worry. We’ll get you out of that dress.”
            “I can’t believe no one’s come looking for me. No one’s noticed the bride is missing.”
            “You’ve thrown a great party. Everyone’s too busy having fun,” Karen reassured her. She tried to budge the zipper, but it gripped the gossamer fabric like a vise.
            “Almost everyone,” the bride whispered.
            Karen tried to ignore the look of sadness in her eyes. She wanted to hate this woman, but she only felt pity. Her elegant gown and perfect skin and tiny waist couldn’t hide the fact that she was miserable on her own wedding day.
            “I’m so sorry, but I think I’m going to have to rip the veil to get the zipper to move.”
            “That’s fine,” the bride said. “It’s not like I’m planning on wearing it again.” She smiled ever so slightly and Karen found herself giggling.
            “Here goes,” said Karen and she pulled the sheer fabric upward while tugging the zipper down. There was a small ripping sound and the bride exhaled with relief.
            “Thank you so much,” she said. “You’re a life saver. I don’t even know your name?”
            A knock came to the door.
            “Mindy? Are you okay in there?”  Karen recognized Henry’s voice instantly.
            “See?” Karen whispered. “Your Prince Charming is looking for you.”
            Mindy smiled, the sadness gone. The blushing bride had returned.
            “I’m fine,” she called. “I’ll be out in a minute. I had some trouble with my zipper but I got some help from....”
            “Ka.... Caroline,” Karen said as she forced a smile. “I’ll hang up your gown. You finish getting dressed and go to your husband.”
            Mindy blushed again. “My husband. I’m so lucky.”
            “You are. Don’t keep him waiting Mrs. Petersen.”

            Today I’m linking up with Write on Edge’s new prompt called “Write at the Merge”. We’re given two things to inspire our writing—songs, images, words, quotations. This week it was two words—gossamer and affinity. If you’ve enjoyed this piece, please check out the rest of Karen’s story here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thrifty, Tasty Tuesday: Black Bean Soup & Cornbread

            Welcome to the first installment of Thrifty, Tasty Tuesday! If you’re looking to save money and eat healthier, there is no greater bang for your buck than beans. They are high in fiber and protein and low in fat. And they are cheap. A one pound bag costs around $1.60 a bag. Yes, planning is required when using dried beans because you need to soak them overnight. But the payoff is huge.
This soup was a big hit with my family. The first time I made it, I served cornbread in case I needed to bribe entice the boys to finish their soup. But they genuinely liked it.
Black Bean Soup is made in a slow cooker (Crockpot). The night before, I chop the veggies and soak the beans. Then I toss everything in the slow cooker before we head out the door in the morning. It's a huge relief to come home with dinner almost ready.

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup

1 lb. bag of dried black beans*
1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with green chilis
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped bell pepper (I use red, but green would be fine)
4 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
1 1/2  t. chili powder
1/2 t. oregano
4 teaspoons of Vegetable “Better than Bullion” **
salt & pepper to taste

Sort and soak the beans overnight according to the package directions.

Throw everything in the slow cooker except “Better than Bullion” ***

Cover with enough water so there is an inch of water over the beans (about 7 cups). I usually boil the water in the kettle to get things started a little quicker

Cook for at least 7 hours on low (if you won’t be home from work in time, the soup won’t suffer from cooking an extra hour or two).

Add Better Than Bullion and stir thorougly.

If you have an immersion blender, run it through the crockpot before serving to thicken the soup. If you don’t have one, puree two cups of soup into a blender or food processor then return the pureed soup to the crockpot. If you have neither, use a potato masher and smoosh up the beans.

Cook for an additional 30 minutes or more. While that’s cooking, you can whip up a batch of my favorite cornbread shown below.

Serve soup with cheese or sour cream.

*I use Goya beans. There are store brands available for a little less, but I think it’s worth a few cents extra. There is usually less debris and fewer broken beans in the Goya beans. 

**I love this stuff, I keep several varieties on hand. However, it is high in sodium. So if you’re watching your salt intake, use low sodium vegetable stock instead of water and skip this ingredient.

***Salt slows down the cooking time of beans, that’s why it’s best to add this at the end.

*****Smoosh is a very technical culinary term.

Vickie’s Famous Cornbread
(to save time, you can mix the dry ingredients the night before)

1 Cup Yellow Cornmean
1 Cup King Arthur White Wholewheat Flour*
1/2 Cup Sugar**
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 Cup Buttermilk***
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425º

Spray an 8x8 pan with nonstick spray.

Thoroughly mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Mix eggs, buttermilk and oil thoroughly and add to the dry ingredients.

Stir gently and quickly. Don’t overmix or the cornbread will be tough. A few lumps are okay, they’ll disappear in baking.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

*I’ll admit it. I’m a flour snob. I only buy King Arthur. I watch for sales and stock up.

**I use turbinado sugar because it gives a slight molasses taste, but regular white or brown sugar works fine.

***If you don’t keep buttermilk in the house, use a cup of milk plus a tablespoon of vinegar as a substitute

Friday, January 11, 2013

Places Everyone

The actors are cast

Movements blocked

Lines memorized

A thousand details to be forgotten (or not).

Flats to paint

Nerves to soothe

Take-out dinners and too much coffee

Three week until opening night

            I’m linking up with the Trifextra prompt. We were asked to write 33 words about a new beginning. I’m in the midst of directing a play that opens three weeks from tonight. One of the best things about being involved in theatre is that many of our new beginnings start with a round of applause. One of the worst is how little time I have left for writing!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Year, New Feature

             I have a confession to make. I made some New Year’s resolutions this year. I don't usually. I believe that if something needs to be changed in your life, change it. Don’t wait for a special day on the calendar. This year, the need to make a change has been building for months.
I won’t go over the laundry list of clues that my body has given me that it's time for a change. I will tell you that my chiropractic bills could fund a pretty nice vacation and my bathroom scale hasn’t been so cruel since I was sporting maternity clothes. It’s time to start treating myself better.
I’m not focusing on counting  every calorie or working out like a maniac. In the cold heart of winter that would be setting myself up for failure. I’m simply eating better and moving more. I’m walking to the bus stop and doing yoga when I can fit it in to my schedule. I’m planning my meals instead of suddenly realizing at 4:30 that we’re all hungry and there is nothing easy to throw together in the house. That’s a recipe for a trip to Little Caesar's or Wendy’s with a Zantac chaser.
This past weekend I was filling my grocery cart with food and reflecting on our first week of healthy eating. It had gone really well. While I haven’t lost much weight, I was feeling better than I had in months and my family enjoyed my meal choices. Another huge bonus: I was saving money.
There is a perception that eating well is expensive. It doesn’t have to be. I had the unique good fortune growing up learning lots of tricks for eating well without spending a lot of money. My mother was the department head of a large inner city Home Economics department. She has years of experience feeding people on the cheap and teaching people to eat well. She and I will be teaming up to bring you a  new feature on this blog, “Thrifty, Tasty Tuesdays: Feeding your Family for Less.” Each week we’ll bring you tools to help your family stay healthy on a budget. Sometimes it will be a recipe, other times it will be general tips go easy on your wallet and your waistline. I'll use ingredients that are widely available and I won't use any fancy equipment. Also, every recipe will have to pass the scrutiny of a couple of veggie-fearing, fried food-loving, sugar-craving judges:

Fast food? Us?

            So watch this space next Tuesday for our first installment of Thrifty, Tasty Tuesday. Start the new year with a healthy diet and a healthy bank account!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Another Auld Lang Syne

            “Time to move up in the world,” Tony had said. “Come work with me.”
            So Karen left the diner for the country club. Her feet still hurt, she still had burns on her fingers and old men still pinched her ass. Money didn’t mean class. She held her head high and did her job. She would survive.
            “They’re about to announce the new couple,” Tony said.
            She opened the door enough to watch them enter the ballroom. Her knees buckled when she saw the groom’s whiskey colored eyes.
            “Ladies and Gentlemen,” the bandleader announced. “Welcome Mr. and Mrs. Henry Petersen.”

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
             This latest installment of Karen’s story comes in response to two prompts. The inspiration for this week’s 100 Word Song is Dan Fogelberg’s "Auld Lang Syne"—one of my favorites from way back.  In fact, my very first Karen story was entitled "Auld Lang Syne". I’ve been singing it non stop over the past couple of days (apologies to my family). It’s also in response to this week’s Trifecta prompt:
1: to remain alive after the death of <he is survived by his wife>
2: to continue to exist or live after <survived the earthquake>
3: to continue to function or prosper despite : withstand <they survived many hardships>