It has been quite cold in my neck o’ the woods lately. It’s a balmy 18*F now — and snowing — with a high of 21*F at some point that I am not sure we have yet or will ever reach (have I mentioned it’s snowing?!) And to think — this morning I actually considered going for a 2 1/2 mile walk when it was a mere 12*F…I wonder if that qualifies me as “crazy”?? It wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe being certifiably crazy would even give me a slight break! Though I doubt it…which is why I am still here …lol.

Well, now I’m sitting around at 4:30 PM trying to figure out what exactly I want to throw together for supper, not feeling the least in a creative or playful mood because of the foul moods of 6+ children that are milling about complaining about chores – and the fact that I won’t let them go anywhere…I am such a mean mother! But back to the supper dilemma. Fortunately the other day that was not the case!

012 My mother and I have a standing date with a local butcher about once a month. In my quest to start to eat more healthfully, as well as save money, I confess that I don’t purchase as much meat as I used to. But when I do buy meat at all, I prefer to deal with the butcher rather than the meat section of a grocery store or Walmart…I find that the cuts are nicer, and that I can stretch the meat further because of the superior quality. Plus I now know the people who run the store. I can ask questions. Even from time to time garner recipes. So I cook meat for my family maybe 1-2 times a week — much different from my early marriage when we ate meat daily. That’s progress.

So I had about 1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef that was supposed to feed at least 11 people on a particular day. The odds could’ve been against me, but I had enough other ingredients on hand to throw together this lovely spaghetti lovers’ soup. I honestly don’t know where I first saw the recipe, but I used it once and then adjusted ingredients and amounts to suit my own tastes. I even did this before with a combination of ground beef and some TVP (textured vegetable protein) that I had a small amount of and wanted to use up. So I’m thinking the whole dish really could be adjusted to be vegan if you substitute vegetable broth for the beef broth originally called for. I haven’t attempted it yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t! Anyways, back to the recipe…

Here’s what I do:

* Brown 1 1/2 lbs ground beef (or more, or combine with TVP) in a pan. Season with salt and pepper. Drain and set aside.

* In a stockpot, saute one medium sweet onion (I use Vidalias) and 4 bell peppers (I used a mix of colors this time — one each of red, orange, yellow and green) chopped in 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil til tender. (You can also add garlic if you like — usually I add one clove minced, but I couldn’t find it…it’s on my list for next week!)

* Add ground beef to stockpot with one 6 oz. can tomato paste, one 8 oz. can tomato sauce, one 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (with liquid), 4 cups beef stock (or vegetable if you prefer) and 2 cups water and bring to boil over high heat.

* When soup is starting to boil, reduce heat to medium and add 4-6 oz. spaghetti noodles, broken into thirds. (I will add more to stretch the dish when necessary).

* Reduce heat to a simmer and cook til noodles are done the way you like them — in my house they are always slightly al dente, but I know some people like them very soft.

* Serve with fresh chopped parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish. I was out of parsley, at least the fresh kind, so I used cilantro this time. I also set red pepper flakes on the table for those who prefer life a little on the spicy side.

013This dish comes together pretty quickly. It’s best served with garlic bread or a thick, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside real Italian bread. If you haven’t noticed, while I do like to get creative and play with complicated or unusual recipes, as a homeschooling mom with an incredibly large house to maintain and six children’s schedules to coordinate, it is really nice (read: convenient!) to have recipes that are easy and delicious, and I appreciate the way that I can stretch a meal in order to be in a position to offer hospitality to friends and family. So there ya go — quick, easy, delish!!! It’s a keeper in my house…I almost never have leftovers!!!

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