Uncommonly Good

Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup

I came across a Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup in an email today, and since I had a zucchini in the fridge I decided I needed to make it for lunch.

So I did.

Italian Vegetable Soup in Larrupin

I pinned it, and then printed the recipe. I made a few changes off the top, mostly to the sequence of events, and switched out the broth, the beans and the tomato products. My recipe—with the changes—is below.

I started with this deep cast iron skillet acquired at a garage sale. Paid a whopping $5 for the rusty old thing. The size is midway between a skillet and a Dutch Oven. I cleaned it up and this is my first time to use it.

Should have taken a “before” picture! It was a mess.

Iron Skillet, Flea Market Find

Ain’t it purty? Cleaned up right nice, din’t it?

Beautiful seasoning! This is what a well-seasoned iron skillet is supposed to look like! My plan was to resell it because it was so gross I didn’t know if I could get it all the way back. But I might be in love. Even though it’s a no-name skillet, it will do the job.

Celery and onion went in first.

Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup on Larrupin

I always chop the onion last, just in case it makes me cry. When the onions and celery are soft and smelling good, I add the garlic. Garlic will burn if you cook it too long or if the heat is too high so I wait to add it just before the next step.

Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup on Larrupin

I added the carrots here because I’m not a fan of soggy cooked carrots. Adding them now means they still have some crunch when the soup is done. If you like soft cooked carrots, you can put them in the pot at the beginning.

Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup on Larrupin

This is where I added the dried oregano. I could have added it sooner, but I forgot. I like to stir it around and coat the veggies with it before adding the liquids.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I think the veggies take in more flavor when I do this instead of letting the herbs just swim around in the liquid later.

Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup on Larrupin

Now I add the broth, crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. Then the zucchini—I don’t like soggy zucchini either—and the rosemary. I intended to drop in a sprig of fresh rosemary, which is why I didn’t put it in with the oregano, but instead of taking the time to go outside and snip some, I used what I had in the cabinet.

While I waited for everything to come to a boil, I built a salad.

Salad on Larrupin

A couple of handfuls of spring mix; two slices of seasoned, crispy, oven-baked French bread croutons, broken into pieces; a sprinkle of sunflower seeds; and some slivers of Parmesan. I dressed it with homemade vinaigrette: olive oil, cranberry vinegar (homemade), brown and spicy mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco, garlic granules, and sugar).

When the soup came to a boil…

Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup on Larrupin

… I added the pasta.

Then I ate my salad.

Italian Vegetable Soup in Larrupin

When I finished the salad the pasta was done, and, as pasta does, it absorbed a lot of liquid. I added the beans with the liquid (again, I don’t like soggy, smushy beans) and filled the empty can with water to add to the soup. I didn’t want to dilute the flavor, so I sprinkled a teaspoon or so of chicken bouillon granules on top and stirred it into the mix.

Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup on Larrupin

Salt and pepper to taste. I only added a smidge of salt but I gave it several good cranks of the pepper mill. I add pepper to practically everything.

Then I spooned it into my salad bowl. I used a wooden stirring spoon so I didn’t get a lot of liquid. I gave it a good splash of Tabasco and  garnished with slivers of cheese. I used a potato peeler.

It was larrupin!

Italian Vegeable Soup on Larrupin

Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup

It was 1 hour and 4 minutes from the first picture to the last. The original recipe said 30 minutes, 10 for prep and 20 to cook, but I couldn’t do it that fast unless I had help chopping the vegetables.

This would make a yummy brown bag lunch with a salad, and it will freeze well for leftovers. Leftovers and freezing are two more reasons I don’t overcook the veggies.


3 large stalks Chopped Celery In Dutch oven, sauté onion and celery in oil.


1 medium/smallish Chopped Onion


2–3 Tbsp Olive oil


2–3 Garlic Cloves Minced garlic Add garlic to sauté.


1–2 tsp Dried oregano Season with dried herbs, stir to coat veggies.


2–3 carrots Chunky chopped carrots Add carrots.


1 32 oz box Swanson’s Chicken Broth Pour in broth, crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce.


1 14.5 oz can Crushed tomatoes


1 8 oz. Tomato sauce


1–2  stems Fresh rosemary Add rosemary and zucchini. Bring to a boil.


1 small zucchini Thick sliced zucchini


2 cups Uncooked pasta Add pasta. Stir. Cook al dente.

Eat your salad while the pasta cooks.


1× 15.5 oz can Great northern beans Add beans and liquid.


1 15 oz. can Water Use the empty bean can to add water.


1–2 tsp. Wyler’s Chicken Bouillon Granules Sprinkle on top. Stir.
To taste Salt & Pepper

Finish eating your salad and then ladle the soup into your salad bowl.

Garnish Parmesan Cheese
Optional Tabasco Sauce


December 6, 2012 Posted by | Brown Bag, Salad, Soup | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Love Summer Tomatoes!

I didn’t plant a garden this year, but a friend did, and she has been sharing the bounty! I have garden fresh tomatoes for the first time in years, an I am in hog-heaven!

I put this quick snack together a few hours ago.

Fresh Tomato Bruscetta


Fresh Tomato Bruschetta

For a Single Serving

  • 6 half-inch slices sour dough bread (or any other dense bread)
  • Olive oil spray
  • Garlic granules
  • Dried basil
  • Dried oregano
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 1 fresh tomato
  • Balsamic vinegar


  1. Put the bread slices on a foil lined toaster oven tray.
  2. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic granules. Turn slices over and repeat on the other side.
  3. Sprinkle with oregano and basil.
    Optional: Toast the bread at 300°–325° to your preferred crunchiness. Skip this if you’re in a hurry or if you want your bread soft.
  4. Top each slice of toast/bread with a slice of tomato.
  5. Sprinkle with more basil and oregano.
  6. Top with slivers of Parmesan cheese. (Feta crumbles are also good if you have any.)
  7. Slide the toast in the oven at about 350° until tomato is warmed through.
  8. Serve with a small bowl of balsamic vinegar. Dip toast in the vinegar before each bite.

Note: if you make more than one serving each person will need a personal bowl of balsamic vinegar. There will be double dipping. 🙂



Place a slice of

July 4, 2012 Posted by | Appetizer, Snacks | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Larrupin Party Mix ~ Great Gift From the Kitchen

I love homemade Party Mix.

Party Mix

It’s the perfect mix of crunchy and salty snacking. And, while it’s a treat to bite down on the occasional peanut or pecan, Kix cereal is my favorite. I pick out handfuls of Kix and eat them one at a time. Just a bit of sweet in that crunchy air-filled puff.

Party MIx

For years my mom would make a roasting pan full of this stuff and parcel it out to all of us during the holidays. Eventually I got her recipe and started making my own.

It’s the perfect thing to make and divvy up for gifts. Fill any jar, cover the lid with a scrap of fabric, and secure the fabric with a rubber band. Finish it up with a tidy bow of ribbon, string, yarn, or whatever suits your fancy.

I think the recipe came from Marge, our across-the-street-neighbor on 40th Street. It’s similar to the recipe on the back of Chex cereal, but not really.

Chex cereals
Wheat Chex, Rice Chex, Corn Chex

It calls for a half-a-box of three different kinds of cereal, but mom doubles it so she doesn’t have to make room for three extra boxes of cereal in the cabinet. She has a pretty small kitchen.



After comparing all the recipes with the ingredients I had on hand I decided about 25 cups of dry crunchy stuff would go with the seasoning mix.

Chinese Crispy Noodles

Chinese Crispy Noodles

I used a LARGE stock pot to mix it in. When it came time to add the seasoning oil I split the crunchy ingredients into two stock pots to be sure I could stir it all the way to the bottom and get it mixed well. Mom’s roasting pan works great, it’s shallow enough to spread out and easy to mix during the baking.

Soy Nuts

Roasted, Salted Soy Nuts

If you want to microwave it, you can mix it in any large container. Then transfer it to a container that fits inside your microwave. Be sure to leave room to stir it every two minutes.  You may have to do it in batches.

Janz Revised Party Mix

Dry Crunchy Stuff

4 Cups Wheat Chex
4 Cups Rice Chex
4 Cups Corn Chex
4 Cups Cheerios
3 Cups Chinese Crispy Noodles
3 Cups Roasted, Salted Soy Nuts
3 Cups Nuts (2 cups roasted peanuts; 1 cup walnut pieces)

Party Mix Seasoning

1 Cup Olive Oil
2 T Worcestershire Sauce
8 splashes Tabasco
1 t Lawry’s Seasoned Salt (no MSG version)
1 t garlic granules
1 t celery powder


Preheat oven to 200°.
Dump all the dry crunchy ingredients into a large oven-safe container. A roasting pan or large stew pot works well.
Stir the oil mixture continuously and drizzle over the cereal mix. Stir the crunchy ingredients frequently to distribute the seasoning mix evenly. Put in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Stir every 15 minutes.
To microwave stir every two minutes for 6 minutes.
Let Party Mix cool and store in air tight containers.

Mom’s/Marge’s Original Party Mix

1 C Oil
2 T Worcestershire
4 drops Tabasco
1 t Savory Salt
1 t Garlic Salt
1 t Celery Salt
1 C Pecans
1 can cashews
1/2 box Cheerios
1/2 box Rice Chex
1/2 box Kix
1/2 box Pretzels

My hacks:

  • I love Tabasco, so I added more, but I still couldn’t taste it. The recipe on the back of the cereal box suggests adding 2 T red pepper sauce for a kicked up version. So unless you splash in half-a- bottle, it probably won’t add much heat.
  • I didn’t have garlic salt or celery salt so I made substitutions. I figure less salt is better anyway.
  • I had nice pretty pecan halves and walnut pieces. I decided to save the pretty pecans for something else and used the walnut pieces here.
  • No cashews in the cupboard.
  • I like using all the flavors of Chex so I do.
  • Crispix! Not on my shelf today, but I love it. That will go in my next batch along with…
  • Kix! My fave! Again, not on hand. 😦 So I’ll get a box for the next batch.
  • Pretzels… not so much. I always pick around the pretzels in my mom’s  Party Mix so I  leave it out of mine. They don’t absorb as much of the flavor as the other ingredients so it just tastes like a boring pretzel to me.

About the cost~

If you just buy all these boxes of cereal off the shelf this can be pretty expensive, so clip coupons and watch for sales. Chex frequently has coupons for $1 off 3 boxes and my Homeland doubles the coupons. Save the coupons and watch for a sale and your wallet will thank you! Walgreen’s has frequent sales with different cereals priced at 2 boxes/$4. Add that to a dollar off coupon and cereal that’s usually over $3/box comes down to $1.50.

I don’t see Kix and Crispix coupons as often, which is why I didn’t have those on hand.

Soy nuts are about $2.69/lb. in the bulk nuts and grains area at Homeland. We snack on them a lot, and so this year I added it to my Party Mix. It’s a good addition.

I buy raw Spanish peanuts because the roasted peanuts I find are already salted. I spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet, low heat, for an hour or so. For this recipe I had a canister of roasted peanuts in the shell. I shelled them all and threw them in.

By the way, about a month ago I made a small batch (12 cups dry crunchy ingredients) using the recipe on the back of the cereal box. I was lacking a cup or two of  crunchy ingredients so I used a handful-ish of Wheat Thins.

That didn’t work out.

The flavors of the cracker clash with the seasonings of the Party Mix. I picked around the crackers, much to my dogs’ delight.

So far this year I’ve added three new ingredients: Soy Nuts, yes; Chinese Crispy Noodles, yes; and Wheat Thins, no. Two out-a-three ain’t bad.

What would you add to your special recipe?

December 14, 2011 Posted by | Gifts from the Kitchen, Snacks | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Grilled Cheese Month: Tuna

Today I used tuna for my grilled cheese lunch. Pretty darn tasty!

I started with one over-sized slice of bread and cut it in half.

Bread with Honey Mustard and Mozzarella


Next, honey mustard went on both pieces of bread.  This sandwich turned out a bit sweet, so next time I would switch to Dijon or a less sweet variety of honey mustard.



I put mozzarella on one slice of bread and cheddar on the other slice.




Dill Pickle, Cheddar, Chunk Tuna, and More Cheese.



A dill pickle went on one side, and I carefully piled well-drained chunk tuna on the other side.





I topped the tuna with more grated cheese before putting the sandwich together.




The griddle was about “just right” hot, so it was time to add a puddle of olive oil. Both sides of the sandwich were smeared in oil before I left it to cook for a few minutes.





Look at that perfect golden brown toastiness!


The chunk tuna made this a little more fragile, so I had a fork handy for the droppings.



Banana peppers would be a tasty addition but I’m out right now. And it needs something red. A sprinkle of pimento, or roasted red peppers would be just the ticket!

Of course you can make this full-sized for a hearty eater, but I’m trying to behave myself these days.





April 8, 2011 Posted by | Tuna | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Homemade Croutons and More

Croutons add a nice crunch to many salads, but I just can’t bring myself to buy a box of croutons at the store. I mean, it’s just toasted bread!
When I first investigated making my own, the recipes told me to cut my bread into cubes and fry it in a skillet of oil. Too much trouble, and too much oil! Over the past few years I’ve come up with my own technique that works for me—and for anyone else who’s enjoyed one of my salads.

I start with French bread, the soft American kind from a grocery store works. Cut what you need into slices about 3/4 inch thick.
Arrange on a foil lined baking sheet. I use my toaster oven.
Coat with extra virgin olive oil—I use a spritzer bottle—and sprinkle with your favorite herbs. The seasoning could be as simple as plain garlic powder. I use my own mix of Janz Seasoning Blend.
Oil and season both sides of the bread before putting them in the oven.

Cooking temperatures vary for toaster ovens because the food is so close to the heat source, but for my current toaster oven, I usually turn the heat to just above 300° for croutons. A lower heat will yield dryer toast, but it takes longer.

When I can smell the croutons I’ll check on them. When the top is hard to touch and starting to turn gold I’ll turn them over so both sides will toast evenly. Leave them as long as it takes for the bread to dry all the way through. Break a piece to determine dryness. If it snaps apart, it’s dry, but if it’s still soft and tears instead of breaks, then it’s not a crouton yet.

If the bread browns faster than it dries through, turn the heat down and leave it in a very low oven, as low as 200° if you have time. Eventually turn the oven off and leave the toast there to cool off slowly.

When the toast is totally cool—probably the next day—store it in a plastic bag. If you bag it before it’s cooled to room temperature, the heat will continue to dissipate and the inside of the bag will sweat which softens up the toast you just spent all that time drying out. So don’t be impatient to bag this up.

When I’m making a salad I’ll take a couple of pieces of this seasoned, dried French toast and break it into bite-size pieces over the top of my salad. If I break it into crouton-sized pieces when I bag it, I found the pieces get smaller and smaller and there are lots of crumbs. Which leads to another use for this seasoned bread. Bread crumbs.

This technique creates some very tasty bread crumbs when you need them. Depending on what you’re using them for, you can break them into small chunky pieces, pound them into crumbs, or put them in a food processor to make some really fine bread crumbs. Store any leftovers in the freezer for future use. I used these bread crumbs, along with my traditional cornbread in my turkey dressing last year, and it was a big hit! My mom even wanted the recipe—and she’s the one who taught me how to make dressing!

Once you turn the toast over, you can top it with a variety of ingredients for a snack or appetizer. It makes a really tasty cheese bread, just top with your favorite cheese and turn the oven to broil until the cheese melts.
This is also how I made the bruschetta I mentioned a few days ago. It’s also tasty to break it into somewhat larger chunks and dip into a marinara sauce for a different kind of snack.

I haven’t priced store-bought croutons recently, but I get a lot more bang for my buck buying a loaf of French bread and making my own crouton toast than I would ever get out of a box.

May 28, 2008 Posted by | Salad, Soup | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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