Paul and I are in agreement that if we did indeed have a lake to gaze upon from our window - we would do nothing but gaze upon said lake. In the a.m. we'd gaze with our morning coffee right until we switched to cocktails or wine in the evening and nothing would ever get done. So, we remain happy to have White Bear Lake three blocks away for when we need our "gaze-at-a-lake-fix."
Below is my yard. Exactly as it looked this morning. We knew it was coming.
Sigh. If you live in the southern part of the country and post photos of your flowers from your yard, I may weep.
You can see why I needed to make soup. And not just any soup. The sort of soup that could go vegetarian - if you were in the mood. The sort of soup that could be waistline-happy brothy - if you were in that mood. Or just a tad creamy - which is not a bad alternative when the day is wintery and you want dinner to feel like a balm for the icy roads and chills.
There are so many variations to this Zuppa Toscana - I know because in my soup-questing life, I've tried them all. If you don't eat meat, omit the sausage and increase the onions, carrots and celery by a third. If you like your Tuscan bean soup brothy, leave out the evaporated milk. If you want more fat, use Italian sausage rather than turkey sausage in the soup. Substitute escarole or kale for the spinach. The important thing is to deliver a broth packed with flavor from aromatics (onions, carrots, celery and garlic) and herbs.
Zuppa Toscana Ingredients - serves 8 as a first course, 4 as an entrée
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onions (about one large onion)
1 cup chopped carrots (2-3 carrots)
1 cup chopped celery (2 celery stalks)
2-3 (or more) garlic cloves - minced
1 pound turkey sausage*
8 cups chicken broth
2 (or more) tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
2-14 oz cans cannellini beans, thoroughly rinsed (I used organic)**
1 bag baby spinach
1-14 oz can evaporated milk or evaporated skim milk (I used skim)
*Make your own turkey sausage: for each pound of ground turkey add: 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, 1-2 tablespoons Italian seasonings (I use a lot of seasoning), 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Mix well with turkey, cover and refrigerate at least one hour or up to a day.)
**Substitute dried beans (1/2 pound approximately equals 2-14 oz cans. Simply soak over night as directed on the package. Your beans will be firmer.)
This was so soul-satisfying, I think I'm in love. Zuppa Toscano and I shall live happily together. And it doesn't interfere with my marriage at all.
Zuppa Toscana Preparation
In large stockpot over medium heat, heat olive oil. (Hot but not sizzling.)
Add onions, carrots and celery and toss to coat with oil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook till all is softened - stirring occasionally (7-8 minutes).
Add garlic, stirring for 30 seconds.
Add turkey sausage and stir - breaking up clumps. Cook till turkey is browned (another 7-8 minutes).
Add broth, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Add beans and simmer uncovered for ten minutes.
If using, add evaporated milk and simmer for five minutes.
Add spinach and stir until just wilted - about two minutes.
Serve. Pass pepper mill around. If you did not use the evaporated milk, consider passing freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
And then there was the cake. Someone in my home had a birthday. The day after I joined Weight Watchers. (It had to be.) And in the wonders of her new age, she had found a recipe in Cooking Light that she asked me to make.
Chocolate Cake with Orange-Chocolate filling and Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze
(or in the spirit of this post - Chocolate Gaze)
How could I say no? And it was from Cooking Light....
It taunted me with it's lowfat lip. You know how some cakes are so pretty you proclaim, "It's a shame to cut into it." (But you do.) This richly dark cake proclaimed it was made to be eaten. It sang it. It heralded its edibility.
And we gobbled it. One my second day of Weight Watchers. I ate every moist, delicate crumb of my slice greedily.
The cake soothed. The cake sated. Orange and chocolate - a little citrus, a depth of sweetness. For the rest of the evening, people sneaked down to the fridge in the basement to have a sliver.
If you like dark chocolate spiked with orange and cake with a creamy-oozing layer topped with a glitzy glaze, find the recipe here. A word of advice - wherever it says "non-fat," substitute low-fat. Nobody else claimed to notice... but I could taste the non-fat. And deep inside I know - non-fat is not real food.