Here in the Pittsburgh area, January has ushered in a month-long gust of wintery weather, with no let-up in sight. With forecasts that include terms like "ice pellets" and days that begin with two-hour school delays, 'tis the season for soup.
Soup and other back-to-basics meals are also making a more frequent appearance at our dinner table for another reason: since losing my job last summer and launching a freelancing and consulting business, I've had to become even more of a budget-conscious shopper. When deciding whether to make a recipe, I consider how easily it can be transformed into another dinner or two and the cost of the ingredients.
Our family isn't alone. Increased food costs are affecting everyone and food banks throughout the United States are reporting record-breaking numbers of people who need help. In southwestern Pennsylvania, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank serves more than 120,000 people. At the same time, organizations like GPCFB are finding that donations are dwindling - because the very people who used to be donors have become the ones who, because of the economic climate, are turning to the food banks for assistance.
The Husband and I haven't gotten to that point yet, but when my blogging friend Sue Kerr of the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project asked if I would write a post highlighting this issue, I readily agreed. It hits very, very close to home these days.
Our task was to make a soup recipe from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank Recipe Database (you need to check this resource out!) using ingredients that are often donated to food banks.
I looked in my own pantry and thought about what our family had contributed to the holiday food drive we supported at The Husband's office - because, despite our situation, my philosophy and my philanthropy is that there are always people in worse circumstances. We gave a box or two of pasta. A few cans of tomatoes, because Giant Eagle had them on sale. Some beans.
But what could someone make with that?
A few clicks through the GPCFB recipe database confirmed that those were among several ingredients for one of our favorite meals:
- 1 cup chopped onion (I used chopped frozen onions)
- 1 (15 oz) can carrots, drained (I used fresh baby carrots that were on sale, 2 pkgs/$3
- 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
- 6 cups water
- 1 (15 oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (I used baby butter beans, on sale for $1)
- 1 (15 oz) can green beans, drained (omitted)
- 1 cup elbow macaroni, uncooked
- 1 1/2 tsp oregano
- Black pepper to taste
- 2 Tbl canola oil (or other oil)
2. Add all other ingredients except macaroni into the pot. Bring to a boil, then add macaroni.
3. Let macaroni cook 12-15 minutes or until it is done to your liking. Makes 8 Servings. Freeze leftovers in plastic containers or zipper baggies and use within 6 months.
I like minestrone soup because of its flexibility. Canned vegetables can easily be substituted for fresh. Different varieties of beans can usually be exchanged for another, as can the vegetables. No elbow macaroni? Any small-ish pasta, like shells or ditalini, would work. I've made minestrone with rice - so what if it's then not technically minestrone? As for the herbs and spices, oregano and basil are kind of the same in my opinion, so those can be switched - or combined.
Like the recipe suggests, the leftovers can be made to last for additional meals. I doubled this and we had enough for everyone at our table (a family of four) to have at least one bowl and seconds, in some cases. I have two large Ziploc bags in the freezer for another meal.
In these challenging times, we all need to stretch our food dollars to make them go further. The same is true for donations to community food banks and food pantry organizations - contributions which are especially needed now that the holidays are over and so many families still continue to go hungry.
Find out more about the Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project here.
Click here to learn more about the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and how they are helping more than 120,000 people in southwestern Pennsylvania.
copyright 2013, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.