Tortellini soup with sausage, beans and kale

The chill is in the air here in Anchorage. After picking lowbush cranberries I just couldn’t get warm enough. My boys went off to the state fair for the monster truck rally and came home with big appetites. I wanted to make something to warm us up and fill our bellies.

This Italian-style sausage and bean soup has all the ingredients I love – porcini, sausage, pasta and even some healthy stuff such as carrots and kale. This was a quick soup that came together in about an hour.

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

You can omit the cream of chicken soup – it thickens the soup nicely and boosts the flavor a little.

Italian sausage soup with beans, kale and tortellini

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 4 packed cups chopped kale, stems removed
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained
  • 6 oz. dried tortellini
  • 4 oz. cream cheese

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

Directions:

Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl, cover with hot water and place a plate on top. Let sit for 20 minutes.

In a large dutch oven, brown the sausage over medium-high flame, breaking it up into chunks as it cooks.

Add olive oil, onion, celery and carrot and sauté until onions are soft, about 7 minutes.

Pour in the stock and cream of chicken soup and bring to a simmer. In the meantime, drain the mushrooms – reserving the liquid – and chop. Add the mushrooms and their water to the pot.

Add the basil, granulated garlic, oregano, thyme and parsley. Turn heat to low, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

While soup is bubbling, bring a pot of water to boil. Cook tortellini according to package. When there are 5 minutes left on the pasta, add the kale to the soup pot. Drain the tortellini and add to the pot. Turn off heat and stir in the cream cheese. Once the cream cheese is melted you’re ready to go!

Serve with pecorino romano cheese and sourdough bread.

Italian soup with sausage, tortellini, kale and beans | from Alaskaknitnat.com

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Cucumber chickpea salad with lime dressing

Tonight was supposed to be leftovers night, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I wanted to cook something using the ingredients on hand. We had leftover chili and tortillas so I decided on chili enchiladas. That’s a heavy dish and as with most Mexican-style dishes I never know what type of vegetable to serve on the side. Broccoli? Cole slaw? Naw.

I rifled through the fridge and found an English cucumber, feta and some limes. I had chickpeas in the pantry. Yes….this could be something.

This salad was the perfect palate cleanser to the heavy enchiladas. The bright lime dressing cut through the spicy, cheesy sauce and left me licking the salad bowl.

You can opt to not fry the chickpeas, but that added crispiness was a wonderful touch.

Cucumber chickpea salad with lime dressing | a recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

Cucumber chickpea salad with lime dressing

Serves 4

Cucumber chickpea salad with lime dressing | a recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • 1 english cucumber, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3+ tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1/4 cup feta crumbles
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

Coat the bottom of a medium sauté pan with olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Heat over high flame. Remove as much moister as possible from the chickpeas by putting them in a salad spinner.

When the oil is hot, add the chickpeas to the pan and fry them for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are golden and crispy. Turn off heat and let chickpeas cool.

In a medium bowl, add the cucumbers, green onion, cilantro and feta.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When chickpeas are cool, add to the rest of the salad. Just before serving, whisk the dressing together and toss into the salad.

Cucumber chickpea salad with lime dressing | a recipe from Alaska Knit Nat

How hobbies help our brains

A guest post by Maria Cannon

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Between working, keeping a tidy house, making meals and allotting time for family activities, our schedules certainly seem full; however, nearly everyone finds time for leisure activities. In fact, 96 percent of people age 15 and older engage in a leisure activity, which is defined as watching TV, socializing, exercising, reading, using computers for leisure or playing games.

The Stats

The amount a person spends on activities varies by age, sex, employment and whether the individual has children. Even the busiest group – employed adults living in households with a child under age six – reported engaging in leisure activities for 3.4 hours per day. People over the age of 75 spend almost eight hours every day, while adults between the ages of 35 and 44 devote four hours. With nearly everyone participating in leisure activities, how are they spending their time?

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Watching television is the most popular leisure activity, capturing nearly three hours a day overall. Socializing is the second most common activity but accounts for only 41 minutes. The amount of time spent reading varies greatly by age; people over the age of 75 read for an hour and spend 20 minutes on games or computer time, while those between the ages of 15 and 19 only read for eight minutes and spent 1.3 hours on games and computers.

While making time for leisure activities is important, the quality of the activity is equally as important. Sitting back and turning off our brains for a little bit is okay, but we should switch around the ratio of time spent reading versus watching television. Some hobbies are scientifically proven to help improve our health, and we should opt for those over mind-numbing activities such as binge watching a show.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Creating Music

Creating music can benefit our brains. The more years someone makes music, the more he or she benefits, and beginning musical training before the age of nine provides the greatest long-term benefits. However, even older people profit from taking up an interest in music.

An assistant professor of music education studied the impact of individual piano instruction on adults between the ages of 60 and 85. After six months, she found that those who had received piano lessons showed more improvements in memory, verbal fluency, planning ability, speed of information processing, and other cognitive functions than those who had not received lessons.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafting activities induce a calm, happy, and focused state, which is called flow. Flow occurs when we are so engaged in a complex task that our brains are forced to forget other stresses. When you are involved in creativity, sense of time disappears, and you lose yourself in the moment. The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation.

Creating art and engaging in crafting activities involves distinct brain areas, including those involved in memory and attention span, visuospatial processing, creativity, and problem solving. Using these areas can improve cognitive function. Crafting and creating art also reduce stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or addiction also notice improvements through these creative outlets.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Reading

Reading fiction material positively affects brain health and function. Reading is a highly complex task that requires several brain regions to work together. Neuroscientists discovered that reading a novel appeared to help enhance connectivity in the brain, and the enhancement continued for five days after an individual had completed the novel.

Other hobbies have benefits too, including cooking, completing puzzles and playing sports. Playing hours of video games or consuming hours of television after a long day is tempting, but you’ll reap more benefits from pursuing a hobby that’s shown to provide health benefits. You’ll enjoy yourself while you also reduce stress, improve brain functioning, and even make new friends.

Maria Cannon has suffered from depression and anxiety for years. Her hobbies–quilting, sewing, knitting, and more recently, gardening–play a major role in maintaining her mental health.

Quick craft: easy and cheap bookmarks

My son recently celebrated his fifth birthday with a “Trolls”-themed party. We tend to be low-key with birthday parties.  Usually a handful of kids come over and we eat snacks, play games, color and do a craft.

Now that we’re reading chapter books, bookmarks are a necessity. Here’s a creative way to make inexpensive bookmarks. Next time you head to the hardware store pick up a few paint chips and you’re almost done. This is a great craft for little ones since it involves no cutting.

Paint chip bookmarks | All you need is stickers, yarn and free paint chips. A great craft for toddlers!

Paint chip bookmarks

Materials:

  • Paint chips (look for ones with a hole punched in the corner)
  • Stickers
  • Yarn
  • Hole punch (if necessary)

Paint chip bookmarks | All you need is stickers, yarn and free paint chips. A great craft for toddlers!

Directions:

Cut two pieces of yarn about 8 inches long. Fold them in half and loop them through the hole in the corner of the paint chip (or use a hole punch).

Have your child apply stickers to his heart’s content to the paint chip.

Presto! Bookmark!

Paint chip bookmarks | All you need is stickers, yarn and free paint chips. A great craft for toddlers!

Unicorn treats

If you aren’t aware, unicorns are amazing. Starbucks will tell you so. During an evening with friends the other night we discussed the rainbow frappuccino that is sweeping the social media nation. What other foods could we transform into unicorns? The answer was simple: rice crispy treats. We brainstormed the ideal unicorn treat. Obviously it would need fruity pebbles to make it rainbow.

Then my husband made them. I was stunned as I’m usually the cook in the family. So join in on the unicorn craze and make this deliciously fruity unicorn treat.

Unicorn Treats | a delightful spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat from alaskaknitnat.com

Unicorn Treats – A spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • 2 cups Fruity Pebbles cereal
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • a couple of handfuls of Lucky Charms marshmallows
  • 1 bag mini marshmallows

Unicorn Treats | a delightful spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat from alaskaknitnat.com

Directions:

Coat a casserole pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mini marshmallows and stir until melted.

Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

Unicorn Treats | a delightful spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat from alaskaknitnat.com

Using a buttered spatula spread the mixture into the pan. Cool and cut into squares. Go grab a unicorn frap and feel the sugar high.

Unicorn Treats | a delightful spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat from alaskaknitnat.com

DIY Hoop Wreath | a simple tutorial

This time of year isn’t the prettiest in Alaska. Snow is waiting to melt, everything is brown and dusty, and there’s a certain stale odor in the air. But there is LIGHT – so much daylight.

Erin of Blomma Designs, photographer Anne Marie Moran and I decided to take advantage of our ever-increasing sunlight last weekend.I brought my sister, Farra, along too. We all met at Erin’s studio to create modern floral wreaths. It was the perfect respite from Alaska breakup season.

Make your own asymmetrical wreath with this simple tutorial by Blomma Designs and Natasha Price of Alaskaknitnat.com | Photos by Anne Marie Moran Photography

I thought we should share this crafting experience with a step-by-step tutorial. The luscious photos are by the talented and delightful Anne Marie of Anne Marie Moran Photography.

Continue reading DIY Hoop Wreath | a simple tutorial

Weeknight alphabet vegetable soup

When was the last time you had alphabet soup? Now that I think of it, I can’t remember ever having it, yet I always see the cute bag of dried alphabet pasta at the grocery store and think about making it.

My 5-year-old son has been showing an interest in cooking lately so we went to the library last week to check out kids cookbooks. One of the recipes was a tomato-based alphabet soup. He really wanted me to make it.

Fast forward to 4:30 p.m. today when I was driving home with zero plans for dinner. Thankfully I had already done the shopping for this meal. It came together in a jiffy!

Alphabet vegetable soup is a crowdpleaser - and it's good for you too! Recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

This soup is packed with flavor and nutrition. The reason for the flavor? Pancetta and parmesan rind. Both add wonderful depth to the soup.

I also made chicken meatballs and dropped those in while cooking. I didn’t include the recipe for those, but you could use Italian sausage or any meatball recipe you prefer.

The verdict? My son and husband gobbled up this soup! Plus, we all had fun trying to spell words in our bowls. So much fun.

Alphabet vegetable soup is a crowdpleaser - and it's good for you too! Recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Alphabet soup with vegetables

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 oz. pancetta, diced small
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced small
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4-5 leaves of swiss chard, chopped
  • 1, 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1.5 cups frozen green beans
  • 1 chunk of parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can of canellini beans, liquid reserved
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 6 oz. dried alphabet pasta, or small pasta of your choice
  • 1 pound of meatballs or Italian sausage

Directions:

Add a little olive oil to a large dutch oven and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the pancetta and sauté until cooked but not browned. Add the onion, carrots, chard and celery and cook till onions are translucent, about 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, beef stock, chicken stock, bay leaf, garlic powder, oregano, basil pepper flakes, parmesan rind and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Cover, bring to a simmer and turn heat to medium-low. Add raw sausage or meatballs and simmer, partially uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Add the frozen green beans and return to a simmer for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the beans and reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid. Whisk the flour into the bean liquid and add this to the soup to thicken it slightly.

Add the beans and pasta to the soup and simmer for 7 minutes or until pasta is done.

Alphabet vegetable soup is a crowdpleaser - and it's good for you too! Recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

Serve with generous amounts of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Alphabet vegetable soup is a crowdpleaser - and it's good for you too! Recipe from Alaskaknitnat.com

 

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