This week marks a milestone in our family. Or maybe it's a speedbump perhaps. I'll be working full time for a week, in training really, for the US Census. Grandmother is watching the toddler while I'm at work except for one day when Grandma is off volunteering. At which point Emma will be playing at our Old Order Mennonite friend's farm. The children will be at the grandparents for a couple of hours until Dad gets off work, and then they'll follow my simplified instructions for making dinner, which I will have started earlier in the morning before leaving for work at 8:15. My 13 year old son looks at me like it's the last supper, cooked by mom.
Working a four day shift compresses all the rest of my real work, as many working mothers nod sagely. I prefer the more relaxed day I usually have. I like time to shop for bargains, and to hang the laundry to dry on the line. Today I went shopping to several Mennonite markets with my friends Bertha and Jill and three children. We sampled some delicious and varied bulk foods (sweet potato chips, bacon dip, sesame crackers, some yummy corn relish, and tortilla chips). I love to purchase the horseradish pickles they sell there - a national brand I'm sure. Nathan's horseradish pickles, delicious! In times of $4.00 gallon gasoline, I even sliced cucumbers and kept refilling the jar to make it stretch further.
But today, my favorite find and dinner inspiration, was the cheese at Zimmerman's Meat Market on Lovejoy Road near Penn Yan, NY. It's just a wee little butchershop that now carries a few bulk foods as well. I didn't even see meat, but it was in the back and some pretty kapp wearing Mennonite teen girls wrapped and labeled my order for me with smiling efficiency.
I bought 4 lbs. of Farmer's cheese, some of which we used for dinner. But my favorite find was Extra Sharp, New York Cheddar cheese. The label says Cuba cheese, from Cuba, NY. I paid no more than $2.40/lb for the 10 lbs I had cut into manageable size pieces for our family of 7. I think it comes in 10 lbs. blocks, but that's too hefty for our bunch. They vacuum sealed it and labeled it for me, and gave me an order sheet for their fresh and frozen meat and fish, as well as the multitude of cheeses they sell. I bought 6 lbs. of whiting fillets too, so that will be dinner another week.
Tonight - I wanted to do something substantial with Farmer's cheese. Now it tastes like Mozzarella to my tongue, but it's not as squeaky, and it doesn't melt smoothly like cheddar.
For my wedding anniversary on Friday night we had dinner at a favorite steakhouse - and I started dinner with a lovely bowl of French Onion Soup. It was divine, and I savored every last drop of that rich brown broth, and the gruyere cheese I had to cut with a knife. That was my inspiration for this combination.
KelliSue Minestrone Soup - that they'll eat
1.5 lbs. of sweet Italian sausage (I used venison sausage)
1 diced sweet onion
1 can of mixed vegetables (like veg-all) including liquid
1 quart of home bottled tomatoes or a large can of diced tomatoes including liquid
1 quart of spaghetti sauce (I used Hunts' chunky vegetable which contained zucchini slices)
1 quart of water
1 can of garbanzo beans with liquid
1 cup of macaroni
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons of sweet basil
or mixed Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon of minced garlic (I used jarred)
Saute' the Italian sausage until no pink remains. You may need to add a little olive oil if it's as lean as ours is. Set aside.
In a dutch oven sized pot, drizzle a little olive oil or use butter, and sautee the diced sweet onion until softened. Then add the can of mixed vegetables, liquid and all, and the quart of canned tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes and then using a stick blender, puree until mostly liquid with few solid bits remaining. Add the spaghetti sauce, the quart of water, the can of beans with liquid, the precooked sausage, and bring to a rolling boil. Add the cup of macaroni, and simmer until tender, about 7 minutes. If it's too thick, thin with some water or broth. The sausage adds quite a bit of salt and flavor, so be cautious in using broth if it's salted.
Now add the spices and seasonings to taste, beginning with the amounts suggested. Taste again for salt and pepper, and then ladle into large bowls.
We added a large handful of shredded farmer's cheese to each bowl, and topped it with a few oyster crackers, but saltines will go nicely too. The cheese melts to a stringy delight, and made the soup disappear like magic.
If you don't have available farmer's cheese, I'm told the classic is to use parmesan, shredded into the pot of soup, or you can add chopped parmesan cheese rinds to the pot early on in the cooking. But we had great fun with our Farmer's cheese today. Hat's off to farmer's and their cheesey goodness.
If you try this recipe, I hope you enjoy it like we did. Even the toddler ate it right up. If you prefer Vegetarian cooking, you can leave out the Italian sausage, and use a vegetable broth instead of the quart of water.
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