Freezer Meals and Food Storage

If you are one of our friends on Facebook you may have seen some of the pictures I posted of my little project to help my Grandma last weekend. Grandma Shirley is my food storage idol. Ever since I was a little girl I used to sneak down to her food storage room and stare in amazement at the sheer volume of food there (and sneak into the candy stash which she claims is the most important part). A few years ago we actually went up and took pictures of her storage and wrote a little summary of our findings. It was fun to go through it with her. Check that out at this link.

Recently my grandma had a little health scare and has been unable to do her normal routines of cooking/cleaning/etc. We live about two hours away from her so my mom and I decided to drive up for the weekend and get her freezer stocked with meals. I shared a few pictures from the event on Facebook and everyone wanted to know more about it, so here are the details!

freezer-meals

Step 1: Come up with a list of meals. I used recipes found in my “recipe binder“. There is a link to download my whole file found in that post. Here are the meals we chose to make and the instructions for cooking up each meal.

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Step 2: Make a grocery list for all of the meals.

Step 3: Shop for your food. This was the fun part, since Grandma has such a great food storage, we went down to her basement first and we were able to get a ton of the ingredients from there. We found staples like rice and pasta, as well as most of the pantry items like canned corn, beans, cream of chicken soup, etc. We went and bought fresh meat and items like sour cream and eggs because we didn’t want to open up her #10 cans of them. She was so happy to see her food getting used instead of just wasting away in the basement. It is hard for her to make it up and down the stairs these days so we loved helping her out with this.

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Step 4: Prepare all the meals. Our cook time was about 3 1/2 hours total. Make sure that you know what containers you are going to be using. We were able to use all of her dishes so we didn’t have to worry about using disposable pans. Plan ahead for how you will need to cook them so you don’t put something that needs to go in the oven in a plastic container.

Step 5: Put the meals in containers and label everything. We put all of the side dishes and/or extra toppings in little baggies taped to each container to make it very easy to have everything for one meal all in one place.

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Since these original recipes were meant to feed a larger family, this ended up making at least 16 MEALS for my grandparents. It was so rewarding to do this for them, and we got to spend a fun day visiting while we cooked.

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How to Create a Recipe Binder

A couple of years ago I posted about How to Organize Your Recipes as I was creating a recipe binder for my first little sister to get married. Fast forward two years to my next little sister’s wedding and I updated the whole system and gave her a recipe gift too. Since I tweaked my system I thought I’d share what I do now in case it helps you with YOUR recipe system. I love this for my own recipes and it makes it SO easy to share with family and friends.

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Step 1: Buy a binder
I like to use the 1/2 size binders as they are a little bigger than recipe cards but don’t take up much space in your cupboard or on your counter. If you get the kind with a clear plastic coating you can slide in cute covers and side labels :) You can do all your recipes in one binder or split them up into main dishes/side dishes/desserts/etc.

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Step 2: Buy paper or cardstock
You can use plain white paper or cardstock, but I like to color code based on categories. I buy my paper depending on the color combination I want for that particular binder. Cardstock will be sturdier, but paper will make your binder not as fat and heavy.

Step 3: Buy 1/2 size sheet protectors
These used to be a little bit hard to find but lately I’ve been finding them at most office supply stores or even at Wal-Mart. You can also buy them online if you are having trouble finding them in your area. They are a little pricier than full-page protectors but I LOVE the half page size. They are perfect to keep on the counter and you can fit a lot of recipes in one binder. Note: I also bought little section dividers but they are a bit silly since the page protectors stick out further than the dividers. But they add a little separator and they look cute so I left them in.

Step 4: Create your recipe database
This can be a little bit tricky, and is the main thing I have changed since the last time I did this project. All I do now is set up my word document as a giant table. There are two cells per page and I put one recipe in each cell. This keeps the file formatted perfectly and you can print it like regular. Hint, start the recipe on the bottom half of the page down one line extra and that will keep the margins and spacing even when you print and cut them.

I like to put the category name at the top of the recipe, and I also have made little notes on each recipe to indicate which items are food storage items versus ones I would buy fresh at the grocery store. This is a new addition I made for my own binder that helps me with my meal planning each month. For my sister, I made a copy of JUST the recipes so she doesn’t have to see all my “food storage” notes.

If you’d like to see the recipe file, you can download it by clicking the recipe image below.

Step 5: Put it all together!
Print each category separately so you don’t get the colors mixed up. Use a scrapbook paper cutter or scissors to cut your pages in half and slip them in the page protectors. I made a “cover page” for each food category so I make sure to put that in the front of each section. I also added notes on my cover sections for easy meal ideas that there are not actual recipes for. This helps with meal planning too.

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I also uploaded a copy of the page I used to make the cute cover and side label. You can download that by clicking here. The font is called CHERI and you can search for it and download it to your computer if you want to use it.

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This is the best system I have found for keeping track of my recipes. I LOVE being able to write notes on the pages with a dry-erase marker and updating the file with it every few months. I love being able to add recipes from my favorite cookbooks so I can have them all in one place, and easily be able to share my favorites with my sisters. And I especially love that I get to help my little sisters get started in their own cooking adventures in an easy to assemble, yet meaningful gift.

Food Storage Meats and a Delicious Meatballs Tetrazzini Recipe

When you look at typical food storage calculators you’ll notice that the main source of protein is in the legumes. For a long time Julie was a little “scared” of beans and just decided that she could store tuna and peanut butter and call it good for protein. (not really, but kind of).

Since then, we have both learned to love beans and the MANY MANY uses they have and how healthy they are to use in your everyday cooking. We also have discovered that it is not too difficult to add REAL meats into your food storage. We actually did a post a while back all about incorporating meats into your food storage that can give you some ideas on how to do it that best suits you. Some ways are more time consuming (canning) … others are more expensive (freeze-dried) and each person should figure out the best way for THEM to store meats for their own family.

That being said, I have done a combination of home-canned meats (tutorials found here and here), meats in the freezer, and freeze-dried meats. I like to have lots of options open to me. I love to practice cooking with my home canned and freeze-dried meats so that I can make sure they are good in my recipes should I ever have to depend on them in an emergency. One thing I’ve really been curious about is if I could make some of my favorite meatball recipes using food storage. Well I finally tried it and was THRILLED with the results!

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This is a recipe that comes from my husband’s mom and it has quickly turned into a family favorite around here. You can use any basic meatball recipe, but I’ll share my favorite one with you. For this experiment I used half rehydrated freeze dried ground beef and half regular ground beef and it held together great! I’m going to try it with all freeze-dried next time and see if the meatballs are able to keep their shape ok still.

Basic Meatball Recipe:
1 lb ground beef (I used half freeze-dried ground beef)
1/3 c. milk
1/2 c. fine dry bread crumbs
1/4 c. dehydrated onion flakes
1 egg
1 tsp. Salt

Directions: Mix all ingredients together. Shape into meatballs (it’s easiest with a melon or ice cream scoop) and put on a rack with a pan underneath. I cover the pan with tinfoil to save on clean-up time. Bake at 425 for about 15 minutes. Note: I always double this recipe and save half in the fridge or freezer for another meatball recipe later in the week.

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Meatballs Tetrazzini Recipe:
1 batch of basic meatballs
8 oz package spaghetti
1 can condensed tomato soup
1/4 c. freeze dried onion
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. milk
1/8 tsp. pepper
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese

Directions: Prepare basic meatball recipe. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook spaghetti and drain. Combine soup, milk, onion, salt, pepper, and cheese. Head until cheese is melted. Arrange meatballs and spaghetti in a 9×13 pan. Pour liquid mixture over meatballs and toss to mix well. Back for 30 minutes until hot and serve immediately.


How to Make Omelets Freeze-Dried Style

Two years ago Julie and I won a trip to Cancun and we both brought our husbands and made a fun trip out of it. My husband and I fell in love with this breakfast place there that had the most amazing custom-made omelets. When we got home we had a little bit of an obsession with trying to recreate these omelets. (Our backyard chickens were still laying like champions so we had no shortage of eggs to try it out on every morning.)

The problem was that we kept running out of the fresh veggies needed for the omelets. One day I was really wanting one of the famous omelets but had no peppers or tomatoes in the house. So I ventured to the basement and pulled a few cans upstairs to try out. I then had the brilliant idea to also use freeze-dried cheese just to see if in an “emergency” I could still have my treasured breakfast.

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Here is how I reconstituted the foods. I used freeze-dried green bell peppers and freeze dried tomato dices. I rehydrated them for just a couple of minutes before adding them into the omelet. I used freeze-dried cheddar cheese. I reconstituted it in a bowl full of water. This made it kind of squishy and hard to spread around. There are two other methods which work better which I’ll describe below. I sprinkled some of the cheese inside and topped the omelet with the rest. My omelet was DIVINE! Now if I really wanted to get crazy I could also try throwing in some freeze-dried ham, but I’m hesitant to open a full can of it because it has such a short open shelf life (but in an emergency I could have delicious ham in my omelet too!) I’d also like to try it with the scrambled egg mix some day just to see if it is as yummy (because I know not everyone has chickens).

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Tips for Reconstituting Freeze-Dried Cheese

Best Method: (from Thrive Life’s Chef Todd)
1. Place 2 cups of THRIVE cheese in a glass bowl.
2. With a spoon, lightly stir cheese while drizzling 1/2 cup of cold water over the cheese. Stir continuously until all the water is incorporated into the cheese.
3. Water should just barely start to collect on the bottom of the glass bowl. This is a sign that the cheese has absorbed enough water.
4. Place cheese in a zip lock bag and store in refrigerator overnight or for several hours before use.

Note: Cheese will last up to 8 days in refrigerator. Continue to reconstitute cheese, as you need it, following these simple steps. Adjust quantity for individual needs.

Quick Method:
1. Place a thick layer of paper towels on a plate.
2. Pour dried cheese onto the paper towels.
3. Spray the cheese with a spray bottle and stir around with your finger.
4. Continue spraying and waiting a little bit, spraying and waiting.
5. Once water starts to pool under the paper towel, it should be pretty well hydrated. It may be slightly crunchy but should work fine in recipes for melting, etc.


Strawberry Macaroons (Food Storage Cookies!)

I have a confession to make. I’m in love with the Thrive Macaroon Cookie Mix. If you ever need a super fast and amazingly delicious treat to bring to an event, these are THE thing to make. It’s a cookie mix and you just add water, scoop onto a cookie sheet and cook for fifteen minutes. EVERY time I bring these somewhere I get asked for the recipe and have to sheepishly admit they are from a can mix. I don’t care though. They are so good that I always offer to bring the treat, just so I can have an excuse to make them. They are awesome to keep as a comfort food in your food storage, but we always eat through them faster than I can replenish!

Today we had a mother’s day picnic in the park and I was assigned to make an “Oh My Heck” Salad (our family calls it the oh my heck salad because it is so good that you say oh my heck when you taste it). Anyway, maybe we’ll post that recipe another day. But I was in the mood for my cookies so I offered to bring them too. I’ve been reading about other people trying some variations so I decided to take the plunge and experiment and I have to say, it was WORTH IT! Here’s how you can make delicious easy strawberry macaroons out of your food storage foods :)

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Food Storage Strawberry Macaroons

Ingredients
6 1/2 c. Thrive Macaroon Mix
2 c. freeze dried strawberries, rehydrated
1 c. boiling water (I used the water leftover from rehydrating my berries)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Reconstitute your strawberries. Try to get a lot of powder from the bottom of the can to enhance the strawberry flavor. Once the strawberries are softened, drain them and reserve the water. Boil 1 cup of the strawberry-flavored water. Mix with the Macaroon Mix in a large bowl. Mash up the strawberries and stir them into the mix. Spoon with a meatball or ice cream scoop onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes to let them set or they will just tear apart when you try to get them off.

This is a double batch of the recipe on the can. It probably made about 50 cookies. There wasn’t one cookie left after our picnic, and my 8 year old was mad because he only got to eat one. Yes they were THAT good.

p.s. Since these cookies are white, you can also add food coloring to make festive cookies (i.e. I made green ones and took them to a St. Patrick’s Day event)


Pizza Casserole (Food Storage Style)

I don’t know about you, but some days I just see the same recipes going around Facebook and/or Pinterest over and over again. It’s like a conspiracy to try to get me to make something naughty. A couple of weeks ago this delicious looking pizza casserole was making the rounds:

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I thought it looked easy and yummy but I was missing a few of the ingredients for it … so I decided to make an adventure of it and try making a food storage version. I have to say I was pretty thrilled with the results, and it was a winner with my kiddos. That doesn’t often happen when I’m trying new recipes. So here is MY version of the pizza casserole. Enjoy!

pizza-caasserole

Ingredients:
1 16 ounce package rotini pasta
2 c. freeze dried sausage crumbles
1/2 c. freeze dried green peppers
3/4 c. Thrive Tomato Sauce Powder
3 c. water
2-3 c. freeze dried mozzarella cheese
1 small package sliced pepperoni

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9X13 casserole dish. Cook rotini noodles until slightly underdone. While pasta is cooking, lightly brown the dried sausage crumbles (before reconstituting). Mix tomato sauce powder with water until smooth, add browned sausage and freeze-dried green peppers. They will rehydrate in the sauce so no need to do that beforehand. Combine the sauce and the noodles and pour into the casserole dish.

Lay freeze-dried cheese out on a plate covered with a paper towel. Spray it with water using a spray bottle until the cheese is fully hydrated and not crunchy any more. Sprinkle over the top of the noodle/sauce mixture. Top with pepperoni slices. Bake 20-25 minutes in the oven.

There you have it, an easy yummy dinner that could be made totally with shelf stable items. Who wouldn’t want “pizza” in an emergency? And this is a lot easier than grinding wheat to make homemade pizza dough ;)


Boxed Cake Mix Extender

So today I’m going to tell you about a fun tradition I have going with my sister’s kids. About 4 years ago my sister was making her son’s first birthday cake. She was doing an Elmo cake for him. We were together, and she could tell it took everything in me not to leap over the counter and try to take over as she was decorating. I might be a little overbearing, I know. After trying to get Elmo’s face done, she looked at me and said “Fine, you can do it”. That is where the tradition started. Since then, she has let me make her kid’s cakes, and I LOVE to do it. One of the sweetest parts of this tradition was when she told me she overheard her son telling her daughter “When your birthday comes up next, all you have to do is tell Julie what you want and she can make ANYTHING”. Since they are only 5 and 3, I can still impress them and I’ll keep doing it until they realize I’m no professional

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So onto why this has anything to do with Food Storage. This year, her daughter wanted a Dora Cake. Fair enough right? Well then she decided she wanted a Three Tier Funfetti Dora Cake. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you have to give into every little whim of a child, but I’m the Aunt and I’m allowed to! I had a Funfetti mix in my food storage, but I knew it wouldn’t be big enough for three tiers. I didn’t want to go to the store, because I never want to go to the store. So I got online. I found a recipe for a cake extender. Basically you can use it in any cake mix and it makes it bigger. I love food storage for so many reasons, but the Everyday Emergency is one of my favorites. For more about WHY food storage, check out our series here.

Boxed Cake Mix Extender

Ingredients:
3/4 cup of flour (I used whole wheat flour ground in my Wondermill)
1/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of water
1/4 cup of oil
1 egg

Directions:
Mix dry ingredients in with the cake mix. Mix wet ingredients separately. Add together and follow directions on cake box. You may need to cook it a little longer since it’s more batter, but it just depends on how you spread out the batter.

So I wrote this down on an envelope and can’t remember where I found it online. I can’t seem to track it down again, but it seems like it’s a common recipe. I really liked how it worked. This little extender allowed me to make the full three tiers and it tasted great. A lot of people actually commented on how good it tasted. I know you can make cakes from scratch and everything, but she wanted Funfetti. And I’m a FUN Aunt! Hopefully you can put this little trick into use one day, when you have an Everyday Emergency!


Rice Flour Crepes

When we go to expos and classes a lot of times we’ll bring along a display item that has different grains in glass jars with the grain in the bottom half and the ground version in the top half. It’s a great visual aid to show some of the things you can do with different grains. Well it never fails that someone asks “What can you do with rice flour?”. I never had a good answer for it since I’ve never actual used it. I know it can be used in gluten-free cooking but I do not know all the ins and outs of that. I figured you could make rice noodles out of it, and I looked into trying some recipes for that but gave up as it seemed a little tricky. HOWEVER, I can finally say that I found a way to use it that was easy and yummy!

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I was searching around for rice noodle recipes and stumbled upon a crepe recipe using rice flour. It sounded very similar to my mom’s crepe recipe so I just decided to use hers and swap out regular flour for rice flour. It worked, it was delicious, and my kids snarfed them up as soon as they got home from school. Yay!

Rice Flour Crepes

1 c. rice flour (about 3/4 white rice ground up)
1 c. milk
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. melted butter

Instructions: Grind your rice into rice flour. (I used my WonderMill Electric Mill on the finest setting). Mix all ingredients until smooth. Pour into a hot non-stick skillet about 1/4 cup of batter at a time. Turn the skillet around to let the batter spread out into a thin circle. Cook about 30 seconds on each side. Server with jam, syrup, fruit, honey, nutella, powdered sugar … whatever your heart desires. YUM!

WonderMill Price Decrease

We are so excited to let you know that WonderMill just lowered the minimum price that they are allowed to be sold by $20! Since we always sell things for the cheapest possible price (and free shipping) this means you can now get your WonderMill for just $239.95. Woo-hoo! If you haven’t already made this investment, now would be a great time before they raise the prices again. Get full details at our online store.


Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookies – Without Raspberries?

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my family room, when the doorbell rang. My good friend had just tried out a new recipe and needed me to tell her if it turned out good or not. I’m ALWAYS willing to help a friend in need, so I tested a vegan, gluten free cookie she had just made. Now I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been off refined sugar for a long time, or if I was super hungry, but these cookies made me happy. Instantly.

Fast forward a few days. I was babysitting my cute niece who told me she wanted cookies. How could I deny my cute little niece cookies? I remembered where my friend had told me she found the recipe and looked it up. I was so happy I had all the ingredients (because I don’t usually cook vegan, gluten free). All the ingredients except raspberry jam.

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I knew I wanted to make these cookies. The reason I don’t have jam in my house, is because I would eat jam if it were in my house. And let’s be honest… most jam is just straight sugar. Anyways, I had a little idea about how to get around the no jam problem I was having to make these cookies. I thought to myself… I wonder if I sprinkle a little bit of water on freeze dried raspberries, and then added maple syrup to taste if that would work as a quick and easy jam. It worked. The reason I think it worked is because there wasn’t any water in the raspberries to start with. Had they been fresh raspberries, I think there would have had too much liquid, and it would have turned the cookies soggy. Not to mention, I don’t just have raspberries in my fridge. Like ever.

Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookies

Ok, let’s move on to the RECIPE. I didn’t have a chance to ask the author if I could share the recipe right on here, so I am going to LINK TO IT HERE. The website is called “Oh She Glows”. I haven’t been on there before this, but it seems right up my alley with a lot of healthy cooking. Since I know some of the ingredients in this recipe aren’t totally conventional, I figured it might help to give you a little cheat sheet on them:

RICE FLOUR: Rice flour is a common flour used when baking gluten free things. I don’t eat gluten free, however I eat enough wheat through bread, that I figure when I can mix up my grains, I ought to. I think variety in all things are good. You can buy rice flour, but it can be pricey. I use my WONDERMILL to grind brown rice, and voila! I have cheap and healthy rice flour in seconds!

ALMOND BUTTER: Almond butter is like peanut butter, made out of almonds. I get mine at Costco and I like it. If you’re looking to stick to “healthy” check that the only ingredients in there are almonds.

GROUND FLAX SEED: The ground flax seed in this recipe is what replaces the eggs. It’s pretty common for people to use ground flax seed as an egg replacement, or in smoothies. Ground flax seed is just flax seeds that have been ground. You don’t want to grind these in your Electric Mills because they have oil in them. You can however grind them in the Wonder Jr hand grinders. If I’m being honest, I just buy it pre-ground. It’s worth it to me.

ALMOND MEAL: Almond meal is just finely, finely ground almonds. Again, you can purchase this, or you can make it. If making it, place raw almonds into a high-speed blender or food processor. Process on high speed until a fine crumb, making sure not to process too long or the oils will release.

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Have I told you about the pan my mom got me for my birthday. It’s like an EXTRA LARGE cookie pan that fits the whole oven. It’s awesome. Except when you preheat your top smaller oven and realize the inside of that is smaller than regular ovens, and have to restart, and heat the bottom oven.


Greek Lentil Soup Recipe

SOUP

Something I love about where I live is that I have a lot of friends and neighbors interested in eating healthy, and willing to share ideas and recipes. My friend was telling me about a lentil soup she made, and I thought to myself… hmmm I have lentils…that I NEVER use…I should try this recipe.

Well here’s the thing about lentils. They are a quick cooking legume. Most legumes take a long time to cook, but lentils cook fast. Having said that, this recipe tells you to simmer for a couple hours. I am not sure why, but I do know that I have made it WITH the simmer and WITHOUT, and I prefer the simmer. It made it a little more mushy. For some reason, I’m okay with a little mushy for lentil soup. Jodi on the other hand, isn’t okay with lentil soup at all, ever, mushy or not.

Another thing I really liked about this recipe, is that it can be completely shelf stable. In fact, I think I will assemble most of these ingredients into jars, and then have Jodi foodsaver them shut for me and use them as pre-made mixes. Maybe one day I’ll get my own Food Saver. Another appliance I thought I would NEVER need.

Using freeze dried veggies and spices in soups:

  • No chopping. Seriously awesome
  • If you store a variety of freeze dried veggies, you can make a variety of soups and change them up without pre-planning or shopping
  • You don’t need to measure as much as the recipe says, since when rehydrated they will bulk up a bit
  • You don’t need to rehydrate freeze dried veggies before making the soup
  • If you are using a LOT of freeze dried items, you’ll probably want to watch the liquid and add more water in the pot while cooking
  • Freeze dried spices taste just like fresh, have incredible flavor, and you wont throw away any leftovers from your fridge

So here’s the recipe. If you are wondering what the vinegar is for, so was I. I asked about it on our facebook page. You can see the answers and discussions here.

Greek Lentil Soup

Ingredients:
2 Cups lentils, dried
4 Cups cold water
1 Cup onion, chopped or freeze dried onions
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 Cups beefbroth
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 Cup celery, chopped or freeze dried celery
2 Cups tomatoes, stewed
1 bay leaf
1 Cup carrots, chopped or dried carrots
3 Tblsp parsley, Chopped or freeze dried parsley
1/2 tsp. oregano or freeze dried oregano
2 Tblsp. vinegar

Directions:
1. Wash lentils, drain well. Combine lentils with all ingredients except vinegar. Bring to a boil

2. Lower heat; cover and simmer 2 hours or until lentils are tender

3. Add vinegar and simmer 30 minutes more. Remove bay leaf. Serve soup.
Serves 8