Easy Meal #5

Pasta with Tomato Sauce

Never mind expensive jars of salty, prepared pasta sauce. With a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, you can create your own beautiful sauce. Shop your fridge and pantry for items to add to the sauce—leftovers, lone vegetables, an open jar of olives. It’s cooking improv. My fridge quest turned up a half-jar of capers, half a red onion, and an opened box of spinach.

-28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes
-Add-ins (chef’s choice)
-8 ounces pasta

-Saute raw vegetables in saucepan.
-Add can of tomatoes to saucepan of vegetables and simmer until tomatoes break down (about 30 minutes).
-Cook pasta.
-Toss cooked pasta with sauce.
-Top with red peppers flakes, parmesan, ground pepper, or your own inspiration.

Four servings

Tip: To cut down on calories, use spiral-cut vegetables like zucchini in place of pasta or use a mix of both pasta and veggies.

Apps with a Past

Pickled mushrooms, crackers, and cheese spread in Russel Wright coffee cups from the 1940s

Most everyone these days prefers to drink coffee or tea out of mugs, and thus the squat cup and saucer of yesteryear have disappeared from kitchen cabinet shelves.

But maybe you’re a collector or have some of these nostalgic pieces from your mother or grandmother who likely sipped and talked casually with friends and neighbors.  My grandma always had a cup of coffee (never water, milk,  or soda) with her sandwich and so did Perry Mason, secretary Della Street, and PI Paul Drake after they won a case.

What can we do with these pieces now? Lots. They make novel vessels for appetizers, especially if they are colorful.  They are perfect for soup with the saucer as a resting place for a spoon. Think yogurt or ice cream with berries. Whatever the adaptation I always enjoy bringing a piece of the past back to the table.

What’s in your cupboard?

Celebrate! It’s National Chip and Dip Day

Doritos painting by Pamela Michelle Johnson

March 23 is National Chip and Dip Day. That’s right! And it’s no secret that Chez Banale is home to a family of chip fiends. Chip-themed artwork like the Pamela Johnson piece above pay homage to our favorite junk food.  Regrettably, chips have sometimes been at the center of family disputes over hiding, hogging, and perhaps the worst offense of all—leaving a near-empty bag in the pantry with only chip dust.

In honor of the day, below is my sister Sarah’s recipe for quacamole, inspired by a trip to Ixtapa, Mexico.  She says, “I used to load up my guacamole with all sorts ingredients thinking more is better. When I tasted this guacamole in Mexico it was so delicious, yet so simple.”

Sarah’s Guacamole Dip

4–6 ripe avocados
1/2–1 red onion chopped
1/2–1 bunch of cilantro leaves only, lightly chopped
1–2 limes
Kosher or sea salt

Half the avocados and scoop out the avocado flesh. Mash it leaving some small chunks. Add chopped onion and cilantro, the amount will depend on your taste preference and size of avocados. Mix in fresh squeezed lime juice and salt to taste. Add 1/2 of the onion and cilantro and juice of one lime, taste, and add more accordingly. Good tortilla chips are essential.

Another great dip for tortilla chips is Rick Bayless’ Roasted Tomatillo Salsa.  So easy. And let’s not forget an old-time party staple—Knorr’s French onion soup mix dip with sour cream. The perfect companion to any potato chip.

Easy Recipe #4

Spinach quiche decorated with the last of the season’s cherry tomatoes

Up close and delicious

Sigh…farmers’ markets in the Midwest are coming to a close.  This easy recipe uses fresh spinach, a cool season character, as the main player. If you don’t have spinach, use a cup of another cooked vegetable. Quiche contains the main Banale ingredient—that is, versatility.   Mushrooms and onions make an excellent segue to the winter months.
Serves 6–8


1 prepared pie crust for 9″ pan (or if you’re a purist or advanced chef, make your own crust)
1 to 1.5 cup(s) cooked vegetable(s)
3 eggs
1 cup milk or cream
1.5 cups grated cheese
Salt, pepper, and any seasoning inspiration


→Preheat oven to 375°
→Place vegetables on bottom of pie shell
→Place cheese on top of veggies
→Beat eggs and wisk together with milk and seasonings
→Pour milk-egg mixture on top of cheese
→Cook for 40 minutes or so until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
→Let cool 10 minutes before serving

Tips: Pack a slice of quiche for lunch. Pass this recipe along to those new to the kitchen or the time-strapped folks in your life. 




Tomato Bouquet

Heirloom beauties

Rejoice!  Fresh local tomatoes have arrived at farmers’ markets for a glorious, albeit narrow, time frame. This is a BIG deal for tomato lovers in colder USDA zones. Not only are fresh tomatoes superior in taste and texture to their bleak mid-winter counterparts, they make vibrant center pieces in lieu of flowers. As you eat your tomatoes, downsize the display plate.


Tip: The University of Illinois Extension advises storing tomatoes at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Do not store them in the refrigerator, which can make them mushy and tasteless.

Easy Meal #3

Asparagus soup with chive garnish. Yay! Fresh asparagus has started to appear in the Midwest.


For a long time Femme Banale considered homemade soup “hard” to make and thus assigned it to the entertainment-only category. That thinking changed with the purchase of an immersion blender.* With this gadget you can quickly make soup using only one pot. Even without an immersion blender, making soup is not difficult—maybe a little messier with a food processor or blender—but not complicated.

Here’s a simple soup formula calling for fresh or leftover vegetables and your creativity:
1 lbs or 2 cups vegetables + 1 onion or leek + 4 cups broth

Chop vegetables and onions or leeks. Sautée onions/leeks in stock pot. Add vegetables and broth. (Sometimes FB adds a chopped potato to the vegetable mixture for a thicker soup.) Simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Blend mixture until smooth. Season to taste. Add cream or milk for a creamier flavor. Serves 4. Easily doubled or tripled and freezed. Bread, sandwiches/paninis, and salad make perfect soup companions.

*What is an immersion blender? Basically, it’s a hand mixer shaped like a wand. Femme Banale bought hers for about $60.

Immersion blender



Easy Meal #2

This is a satisfying dish for any diet. Plus it’s pretty. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, chances are you know one.  Keep this recipe on hand in case you need to whip up something veg fast. Or add it to your repertoire if you’re keeping Meatless Mondays.*

2–3 large servings


15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
Medium onion chopped
1 cup shredded red cabbage
Grain of your choice (optional)


→Heat oven to 450 degrees.
→Place chickpeas on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Roast in oven about 20 minutes or until golden.
→Sauté chopped onion in olive oil a minute or two. Add cabbage to pan and sauté until soft.
→Add roasted chickpeas to onion-cabbage mixture.
→Season with fennel seeds or paprika or whatever you have that might go.
→Serve on top of your favorite grain (or not).

Chickpeas and cabbage on top of brown rice. Sriracha garnish for kick and color.

*Fact check: Meatless Mondays have their origin in World War I, not Whole Foods’ marketing department. During the war, the government promoted wheatless meals on Mondays and meatless meals on Tuesdays in effort to conserve scarce food resources.

Easy Meal #1

Even experienced home cooks face the what-to-make-for-dinner block. Baked potatoes have long been a go-to answer at my house. They are the perfect vehicle for your favorite toppings or leftovers. Plus they offer a menu item easily adjustable to household size. Make a party out of it with a toppings bar.

My husband prefers sweet potatoes, but I’m a straight-up Idaho lover. No matter—they bake well together. Below is a recent take on baked potatoes using leftover beet and bean chili.

His: Sweet potato topped with chili, fried egg, and jalapeño

Hers: Idaho potato topped with chili and jalapeños