TOLD TO “STUFF IT”? IT’S EITHER THANKSGIVING, OR YOU’RE TALKING TOO MUCH – BETTER TO STUFF YOUR MOUTH WITH THIS STUFFING!

tksday 11-12_073Let me first confess that this year’s stuffing was not my best rendition. I was so thrilled that I had homemade turkey stock to add to the mixture, frozen a few months ago for just this occasion, that I overdid the moisture part. Or maybe the moisture just didn’t absorb as well as usual into the bread/croutons because, for the first time ever, I didn’t dig into the bowl with my hands and mush all the ingredients together, as I’d been taught to do by my mother. Apparently I was led astray by those gorgeous photographs of stuffing spilling out of the turkey’s cavity, with obvious chunks of bread, aromatics and sausage on display.

Well, our family likes most of those ingredients well-combined. Besides, not “mushing” can also result in a too-dry stuffing!

The recipe for stuffing in this blogpost is adjusted so that readers can make their own judgments on how much liquid to add to their stuffing, based on what I used and what I’d suggest starting out with. Our stuffing wasn’t waterlogged but could’ve done well with perhaps half-a-cup less of stock. It tasted great, however, and it was even better a couple days later as part of the topping (along with some of the potato casserole) on a Turkey Shepherd’s Pie.

As mentioned in yesterday’s entry, I opted for stuffing in the turkey rather than just filling its cavity with lemon and herbs and making it totally a side dish, baked separately. There’s never too much stuffing.

ckbook PolishOnly one family memory regarding stuffing and then on to the recipe. My father often got involved in the cooking on Thanksgiving, at least in Big Bird part, and he would sometimes mix together what he called “a Polish stuffing,” which translated to how his mother made it. Nana Zembo (who arrived in this country from Poland early in the 20th century) made a version that included raisins. I was never certain this was a true Polish food tradition until I perused my copy of Polish Cookery: The Universal Cook Book by Marja Ochorowicz-Monatowa (Crown Publishers; my copy is its 13th printing, 1975). It contains two raisin stuffing recipes, one in the “Poultry and Poultry Stuffings” section and the other under “Stuffings for Roast Pig.” I didn’t own this book, however, when I tried making a rendition of Nana’s dish. All I did was add raisins to my usual recipe (and maybe some diced apples or applesauce). Tasted glorious to me, but I found I was also the only one eating it. Our traditional TurkeyDay dressing disappeared into well-filled bellies but I guess “honoring our Polish heritage” only goes so far.

With that said, here’s the Day-Zembo family’s “usual” turkey stuffing. I create the same recipe for chicken, only with chicken stock (in fact, in past years it’s often been chicken stock that went into the turkey stuffing).

tksday 11-12_078

DAY-ZEMBO FAMILY TURKEY STUFFING
Yield: Enough to fill cavity of a 17-18 lb. turkey, plus a large ovenproof bowl/pan

Ingredients

  • 5 to 6 generous cups homemade (or supermarket purchased), herbed croutons – more if needed
  • Up to 1 quart turkey broth (you’ll start with less & eyeball it for moisture)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (more if needed, as sometimes is the case with turkey sausage)
  • 10 to 12 ounces turkey (or pork) sausage
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 medium to large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small (Mom never added carrots; it’s my way of sneaking some extra nutrition into the mix.)
  • 3 large celery stalks, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste (minimum, however, of a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • a couple tablespoons Bell’s Seasoning, if desired
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (optional but advisable; I didn’t include them this time— had I done so, perhaps they would have offset the extra moisture since eggs work as binders)
  • additional butter to dot dish of extra stuffing

Process

  1. Into a very large bowl, pour the croutons.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet and add sausage. Sauté until browned, using spatula as it cooks, to break into small bits. (I had to use turkey sausage – daughter doesn’t eat pork or red meat – and couldn’t find a package of it with “breakfast sausage” seasonings in it, so wound up with a 9.6 oz. package of Jimmy Dean Hearty Sausage Crumbles.) If sausage is the pre-cooked kind, still sauté to warm it and to add flavor to the pan.
  3. Remove sausage to a paper-towel-covered plate to drain.
  4. Add butter to skillet and, when melted, further add onions, carrots and celery, cooking for about three minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Add garlic to pan and sauté for an additional minute, monitoring mixture to be sure garlic doesn’t burn.
  6. Return sausage to pan and add about a cup of the stock. Use spatula to scrape any pan brownings up, further flavoring the broth mix. (This is called deglazing.)
  7. After a few minutes, turn heat off and add contents of pan to the bowl of croutons, mixing together well.
  8. Add one cup of warm stock (I microwave it) to mixture, plus the thyme, sage, parsley and Bell’s Seasoning (if using). Also add any additional salt and/or pepper, as desired.
  9. Ensuring first that the mixture is cool enough not to “cook” the eggs upon addition, add eggs to the mix and stir until combined.
  10. Then DIG IN with those hands, mushing the mix together. You aren’t going to make it into one gooey mess, breaking down veggies into nothingness, but croutons should be well-dampened with some of them broken down entirely. (If it’s a bit dry, add more stock— a little at a time to avoid overdoing it. Too wet? No harm in adding more croutons. Judgment call.)
  11. If roasting stuffing inside the bird, as well as in a separate dish, make sure turkey’s cavity is salted and then fill about ⅔ to ½ full (stuffing expands). I don’t bother to try to sew up the cavity; I simply pull drumsticks together and tie with kitchen twine. (See yesterday’s post for suggestions about roasting the bird.)
  12. Fill an appropriate-sized, ovenproof dish or pan with remaining stuffing. Dot with butter.
  13. Extra stuffing can be baked along with the turkey (but only for about 30 to 45 minutes of the turkey’s time, so schedule accordingly), or separately. Since we have only one oven in our kitchen and the bird takes up most of that space, I usually microwave stuffing until heated through and then place it in the oven after turkey has been removed and is resting on the counter. Bake it until browned on top and thoroughly heated through.

There you have it – my guidelines for great stuffing. It takes practice in judging exactly how much stock you’ll want in your own version. And still, after years of T-Days (or whenever you’re indulging in turkey), you might not come off with exactly the texture you were aiming for. Hopefully, however, it’ll still be full of flavor, as ours was – and it’ll work well in those recipes for leftovers!

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SWEET’NING UP THE CHILI – BUT NOT TOO MUCH: PUMPKIN/SWEET POTATO CHILI WITH BEANS & CHICKEN

At home, we ate our pumpkin chili with melted cheddar cheese atop!

It’s that time of year again- food, food, food. The holidays aren’t just about gifting and – for church, synagogue, mosque and temple goers – celebrating a holy event. They’re about gathering together of family and friends, enjoying each other’s company. And that means, “Feed ’em!” But this also entails remembering that not everyone lives in the best of circumstances, especially in these tough economic times. We may struggle to keep up with the bills and pay for transportation to work or the grocery store and other basics, but not everyone has a job to go to or even enough to eat. So it’s important to somehow “pay it forward” (as that movie so poignantly advised). Today’s recipe, in honor of all holidays from Thanksgiving through the end of December, is the chili recipe I created for daughter Kristen’s workplace chili & bake sale / raffle & silent auction – an event that raises money for charity.

Last year was the first year I contributed a large batch of chili for the sale, and this year I decided to bake as well. Cheesey Cornbread (with extra cheese) to go with the chili and Cardamon Risotto Cookies (a twist on my regular Risotto Cookies, with sugar-cinnamon also replacing the frosting). Then, at the last minute (several hours before we were to deliver food to the office), I decided to throw in some Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (bananas too ripe for me to eat on cereal – I like ’em when there’s a little green left on the peel!). The muffin recipe will follow in another blog entry.

A busy, delicious two days (well, you didn’t think I was going to whip up all that good stuff and not indulge myself?!), and a lucky time too. After the sale was over, Kris called. I thought she was simply letting me know how much they’d brought in. This year’s proceeds are being split between the local food pantry and agencies providing aid to New York City and Long Island victims of Hurricane Sandy. After Kristen told me they’d raised well over $5,000 (eventual total was $5,700), I was about to hang up when she called out, “Wait! You won one of the raffle baskets!”

Not only did I win a raffle basket, it was The One I’d hoped to get, if I won anything at all (which I wasn’t expecting). The huge plastic container included a 19” television and a ROKU with 6-month subscription to Netflix. We already enjoy Netflix so that’s a nice credit on our account, but I was thrilled to acquire a small TV for my downstairs office/artroom (for when it is finally remodeled, which Bill promises will happen after Christmas, although other work on upstairs might take precedence). It won’t be anything fancy but homey enough for me! Oh yeah—the theme of the basket was “Holiday Movie Night” and the box was also packed with things like a warm (red) throw, peppermint cocoa mix, a Santa mug, a dark & white chocolate peppermint bark candy bar, and microwave popcorn. (The candy bar did not last long. I love peppermint bark.)

In addition to such good fortune, I was pleased to hear that all of my chili disappeared into the mouths of many of my daughter’s co-workers. Kris said there were plenty of positive remarks. Apparently, several of them are interested in seeing the recipe on Kitchen Cauldron when posted. One woman made a point of approaching Kristen afterward to say it was the best chili she’d ever tasted! I have to agree with that statement because I think it’s the best chili recipe I’ve ever conjured up. Bill and I enjoyed it immensely at dinner that night.

Here’s hoping you give it a try and really like it too. Don’t be put off by what looks like a long list of ingredients. Once the peeling and chopping is done, it’s mostly about getting the stuff into the pot and simmering. Really easy, as chili generally tends to be.

PUMPKIN/SWEET POTATO CHILI (WITH BEANS AND CHICKEN)
Yield: Depending upon quantity of beans & if including chicken, makes 8-10 quarts of chili

Ingredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 or 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½” to ¾” pieces (optional, especially if you’re a vegetarian)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 medium-to-large onions, peeled and chopped (large or small pieces, whatever your taste)
  • 3 celery stalks, peeled and chopped (including leaves, if any on stalk)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 6 peppers (I used 2 yellow and 4 green), seeded and chopped
  • salt & pepper to sprinkle over veggies
  • 4 or 5 garlic cloves, peeled and diced (I had roasted some, so I used the paste from those cloves)
  • 1 29-oz. can pumpkin purée (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, plus 4 cups chicken stock (or use any combo of these stocks, or just one type; homemade preferred by not required)
  • 3-4 tablespoons chili powder (more if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon mace (optional, but I would always use it; if you don’t have it, could increase nutmeg)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional; I meant to add this & forgot!)
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • a few sprinkles dried marjoram (optional- not required if you don’t have on hand)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt (I used combo of table salt and sea salt)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 4 to 6 cans beans – I used dark red kidney, black, great northern, aduki and pink beans, as well as chickpeas
  • additional salt and pepper, if desired
  • possibility: more stock (or water) or some tomato paste, if a thinner or thicker chili is desired

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Place sweet potatoes in an oven-friendly dish or pan, dab with the butter and sprinkle with dried parsley. Bake until fork slips through chunks but they aren’t likely to disintegrate after additional cooking in chili sauce. I use a spatula to turn once in a while. (I also cover with aluminum foil for first 15 minutes or so, then remove so they get a bit browned.) This should take perhaps 30-40 minutes but begin checking earlier. Remove from oven and set aside until ready to add to chili. NOTE: this can be done the day before, if you like.
  2. In a large stock pot, heat the oil plus butter on medium level. Add chicken and sautée just to lightly brown (don’t worry if completely cooked through). (About 4-5 minutes.)
  3. Add onion, celery, carrot and peppers. Spinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sautée for about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add garlic to pot, sautéing for another minute (be careful – garlic easily burns).
  5. Stir in pumpkin purée, tomatoes and tomato sauce, combining well.
  6. Stir in chicken and/or vegetable stock.
  7. Add chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace (if using), clove, cardamom (if using), parsley, marjoram (if using), salt and pepper.
  8. Simmer over medium-low heat for about an hour.
  9. In the meantime, drain and rinse the canned beans.
  10. After the contents of the stock pot has simmered for the suggested time, stir beans into chili. Bring back to a simmer and continue to cook for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  11. Add roasted sweet potatoes. Simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  12. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and/or pepper, if desired.

Serve with cornbread on the side or some excellent artisan bread. Nice with shredded cheddar cheese atop, or a dab of sour cream.

In my experience, chili tastes even better as a leftover. Like any tomato-based dish, the flavor deepens as it sits in the fridge. It also freezes really well. Make some for a crowd, and reserve some for you and yours too!

NOURISHMENT FOR WOMAN’S SOUL: WHITE BEAN SOUP & CREATIVITY

Well, maybe not just a woman’s soul. I first concocted this soup for Bill & me (but then I have to say my hubby is an “honorary” WomanWorder, given all his support for my work/play with women writers over the years, which I think indicates he balances his masculine and feminine energies pretty well). In fact, the food-pictures in this post were taken back then – and not the same day it was made either, but of a microwave-warmed, next-day portion. I made it again for the WomanWords workshop at Still Point last weekend, on June 2nd. It turned out to be perfect “soup weather” since it was in the 60s, and the predicted shower or two passed through during our day of creativity, remembrance and honoring of connections to-and-through the International Women’s Writing Guild.

Over the last several years, I’ve pondered creating my own version of Tuscan white bean soup. It looked and sounded so soothing! I clipped copies of white bean soup recipes from magazines, stuck tiny post-it notes onto cookbook pages with potential source-recipes, and created a mental file of possibilities somewhere in the mush of my aging brain. It was perhaps six or seven weeks ago that I finally attempted it, with delish success, although I’m not sure how Tuscan it turned out to be. Perhaps its T-factor exists in my desire to conjure up a batch of soup with simple ingredients and an easy process. You know – rustic. Or in the types of beans… or the use of garlic and parsley (so Italian)… or maybe it doesn’t matter. It just IS. 

The first version that Bill and I enjoyed back in mid-April, a bit of Eden on the tongue (minus the forbidden fruit, plus the paradise), passed our lips thick-textured and full of flavor. A few days before the workshop, the potful I wound up freezing to bring to Still Point also was thick and rich, with an added herb (marjoram) and some pre-cooked chicken that were not ingredients in the first round! Packing the large cooler for my weekend (I had opted to bring my own food for the extra days I’d registered to stay in my little cabin), I also included a small container of homemade chicken stock to add to the soup while it simmered during the morning portion of our daylong session. I planned to use SP’s slowcooker for warm-up. Unfortunately the ceramic portion of that appliance was partially cracked, which meant “not such a good idea.” The alternative, using the stovetop, almost resulted in burning the soup as it simmered while we participated in storytelling in the other room in Welcoming House. It was sticking to the pan when I finally got out to the kitchen to stir again! Adding a bit more liquid helped, although it thinned the soup out.

Mandala window, Welcoming House, Still Point

None of the above hindered consumption, however, since every bit of the white bean soup disappeared before lunchtime was over and we returned to the room with the mandala-shaped window, to write and share our stories. We needed it, this group of women writers, because we were together for a purpose. A “heart-y” soup is good for the creative  soul.

HEALING-THE-HEART-AND-SOUL WHITE BEAN SOUP
Yields between 6 to 10 servings, depending upon amount of liquid added & if cook chooses to add additional beans and/or chicken.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 to 3 celery stalks (with leaves, if they’re also attached), peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
  • 4 to 5 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred; if not, then try to purchase low or no sodium stock) – possibly a little more, if needed
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled, chopped
  • 3 15-ounce cans cannellini or great northern beans (cannellini preferred; a combo is good too)
  • 1 small can garbanzo (chickpea) beans (optional)
  • 2 sprigs dried rosemary springs (perhaps 1 tablespoons’ worth)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or equivalent in sprigs of dried thyme)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram (optional – I added this to the batch made for the workshop & loved it)
  • 1 to 1½ cups cooked chicken, chopped up small (perhaps ½ inch) – this is optional; I added the chicken the second time I made the soup.
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Optional stir-ins and/or toppings: Light or heavy cream – a small amount to stir in if some dairy richness is desired; Greek yogurt or sour cream – a dab as topping; chopped fresh or dried parsley – a sprinkle atop; choice of croutons as topping.

Process

  1. In a large stockpot, sauté the carrots, onion and celery in the oil and butter for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lightly season with salt and pepper after about a minute.
  2. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for about another minute, being careful not to burn it.
  3. Add the chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil.
  4. Add potatoes and return to a boil. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until potatoes are fork-tender.
  5. Add beans, rosemary, thyme, parsley and marjoram (if using). Simmer another 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Remove pot from stove. Removed herb sprigs from the mixture (which will by now be devoid of most of its leaves).
  7. Using your immersion blender (or a counter top blender, food processor or hand masher), purée the mix to your preferred eating consistency. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little more water or chicken stock.
  8. Return pot to heat and add the chicken (if using), simmering for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is heated through.
  9. If adding dairy, stir in (start with a small amounts, such as a couple teaspoons – not much is needed!). IF FREEZING THE SOUP, DO NOT ADD DAIRY. WAIT UNTIL THE DATE CHOSEN TO SERVE IT, HEAT IT WELL, THEN ADD CREAM.
  10. Serve with whichever optional toppings desired, or with good bread and a salad!

Slow-Cooker Squash and Sweet Potato Soup (Sneakin’ in Those Sweet Tubers!)

 
If you were at the Women Writers and Artists Matrix Weekend in Saratoga Springs, NY earlier this month – specifically, at Amejo’s house on Saturday night for the “Women, Wine & Cheese Reception” – then you might’ve been waiting for this post, for this recipe. It was a big hit that night, devoured even before a few latecomers arrived at Amejo’s home! Of course, I forgot to take any pictures, being busy being social and all. I decided, however, to whip a batch again last week, but not just for the camera. Bill hadn’t gotten a taste (I took every last drop off to the event with me!), and it’s such a good way for me to sneak a bit of sweet potato into his diet. Yay! for that beta-carotene and all the other nutrition it provides. And the “magic” too, which I’ll get to later. (Incidentally, if you’re new to this blog and don’t know about The Terrible Three, or the only three vegetables my hubby loathes, you might want to check out the 12/11/11 post covering our delicious experiences at internationally-famous Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, NY.)

Marilyn at WWAM Weekend, with an International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) SisterWriter.

The chicken stock mentioned in my previous post turned out to be the best I’ve ever conjured up. Which might not seem like much to say, since I think I’ve only made it from scratch once, perhaps a year or two ago for a batch of chicken soup – except that this version made a huge difference in not only this soup but also in the couple applications I managed to dream up for it since. So I’m sold on going homemade as much as possible, especially for soup. In fact, there’s a pot of stock simmering on the cooktop upstairs now, its intoxicating aroma wafting its way downstairs as I type. I expect to split this batch between the freezer and cooking up a pot of White Bean Soup (with Chicken) for the WomanWords workshop this weekend with Alice Orr at Still Point.

Our recent hot weather is supposed to break, and the mid-60s temp expected for Saturday is just fine for soup. Stock done today; soup-making sometime tomorrow, in between packing to leave early for Still Point on Friday (picking up Alice at Saratoga train station before settling in at SP!). Oh yeah, I’m also going to Leslie’s this afternoon to do art and then on to grocery-shop for the weekend. Yikes! What a schedule… but I do intend to finish and post this blog before all this is accomplished.
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Before providing the recipe, how about a little of the food’s magic? This blog is dubbed, after all, Kitchen Cauldron. and I do like to bring it (the magic) into some posts, exploring ancient beliefs about a food along with some nutritional facts. If a witch is one who practices alchemy, who transforms one simple item into another of greater value (think: lead into gold as the metaphor goes, or more to the point for KC, basic food items into nutritious and delicious delights), then that must be me. Further, if a witch is one who takes experiences and thoughts and transforms them into words, why then I also qualify as one!

Squash, this soup’s main ingredient, has been around a long time so there’s plenty of lore. According to my handy Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), it’s been in the Americas since at least 4,000 B.C.E. It was so sacred to the Hopi that they even created one of their spiritual (Kachina) dolls topped with a head of squash and wearing squash blossom necklaces. This vegetable, in any form (butternut, zucchini, etc.), inspires spirituality. If someone maintains s/he doesn’t like squash, then serve that person zucchini bread! Cunningham says squash can “increase awareness of the non-physical reality around us,” and he also lists it among foods that are “generally used for promoting courage, protection, aggression, sex and health.” In The Kitchen Witch Companion: Simple and Sublime Culinary Magic by Patricia Telesco (Citadel Press, 2005), the author writes in the intro to a recipe titled Multi-Tasking Squash, “Squash comes in a huge variety of colors and sizes, and some of these can grow to exceed 240 pounds and produce hundreds of seeds. These characteristics provide this vegetable with the symbolic value of slow, steady development that leads to substantial rewards.” Hmmm. Got a big project you’re working on? Maybe this is just the soup to enhance your ability to ace it!

I think I’ve gotten into pumpkin and sweet potato symbolism before, but quickly:

  • For sweet potatoes, those orange-hued tubers, think love and sex, the ability to excite desire (it goes both ways though – giving love, receiving love). In fact, Patricia Telesco’s A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook, (Llewellyn Publications, 1994), lists as the sweet potato’s “Magical Association” the following: “Well founded, gentle love.”
  • For pumpkin (more orange!), think healing and money symbols – the fruitfulness of the earth inspires this; and pumpkins have been known to symbolize Mother Goddess. (To enhance its ability to attract money, it’s said that one should serve it with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg – no wonder pumpkin pie is so popular!)

Then there are the potatoes in the soup. Earth element, since they come from it, they’re known for protective qualities and for promoting compassion (now, don’t they sound like Mother Earth sorts of attributes?). The Spaniards brought the first potatoes to Europe in 1534, where they claimed the veggie could cure impotency. This led to the value of spuds jumping outrageously high – in some cases, sales amounted to the equivalent of $1,000 in today’s U.S. dollars! Of course, this did lead to a problem when potatoes were declared “unholy” in some parts of the world (I believe Scotland was the first) and their consumption was banned. Cunningham suggests that one might make the potato’s effects stronger by adding onions, chives, dill weed, rosemary and/or parsley, but I’d add one bit of advice: Don’t throw out your Viagra either.

Garlic cloves also possess protection and health qualities. In fact, in ancient times, garlic was touted as a cure for insanity. And Roman soldiers consumed it believing that it afforded them courage on the battlefield. There’s one stipulation here, however, with garlic: don’t bother with anything like bottled, canned or dried. Allegedly, it’s only the fresh stuff that works.

It seems all the ingredients in the chicken broth are aimed at good health and well-being (Jewish mothers knew what they were talking about!), especially the chicken that played a major part in producing it. As for the spices added to this Squash and Sweet Potato Soup, they offer magical benefits too: black pepper promotes cleansing, purification, protection and banishing; salt also symbolizes cleansing and purification, with grounding thrown in; bay leaf enhances psychic powers, strength and health; sage adds possibilities for purification and wisdom; and parsley brings good for luck and protection from accidents. (In addition to other sources previously mentioned, I consulted Cait Johnson’s Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons [Destiny Books, 2001] on the spices.)

I can’t forget to mention a few utensils you might be utilizing as you produce your soup, for the tools of the trade are not to be overlooked as part of the magic. Telesco provides a “Magical Association” for several of these. For instance, she lists a blender as being associated with “Mingling with others, stirring up energy.” Not a bad association, and plenty valid if you’re going to share your soup with others. I also assume this  works for a food processor and an immersion blender as well (and even a hand masher). She lists “Knife” as magically connected with “Cutting away, sharpness of mind, separation.” A fork might symbolize “Piercing, penetrating, perception.” I found nothing about slow-cookers, by the way, but I tend to think they’re about patience and the wisdom of taking care of oneself (as the cook, I think of an occasional slow-cooker meal as a rest period for me, at least once everything’s prepped and in the pot, then left to cook for hours during which I might write, read and otherwise own my own time!).

Cunningham says cups and bowls are related to the element of water and are therefore “entirely receptive.” They possess loving energies. He tells us that earlier cultures connected rounded pots and bowls with the Great Mother – a concept that was pretty much universal. Goddess energy. Rounded pots and bowls, like the earth. The association of witches with an iron pot, the cauldron used throughout Europe for cooking, derives from Shakespeare’s “three witches” scene in Macbeth. The old Bard’s witches weren’t doing anything at all unusual in using a cauldron for “brewing” – what was weird was what the women were cooking up (including their ingredients)! Today’s Wiccans, Cunningham states, honor the cauldron as a symbol of the Mother Goddess.

That’s more than enough magic for one post, except that I must state my best take on all of this. Yes, it’s a bit of kitchen alchemy – as I defined it earlier. And there’s lots of magic in food, in the ways it can nourish us, give us strength, make us happy, bring people together and much more. There’s magic in food like there’s magic in everything, and intention is its best enhancer. Having just read the newly revised (to add artwork) Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan, illustrated by Maira Kalman (Penguin Press, 2011), it feels right to believe that setting some of the simple intentions that Pollan suggests also sets the stage for Magic to happen (like, “#2, Don’t Eat Anything Your Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food, or #19, Eat Only Foods That Have Been Cooked by Humans, or #64, Try to Spend as Much Time Enjoying the Meal as It Took to Prepare It, or #74,Don’t Get Your Fuel from the Same Place Your Car Does. Following through on even a few of them might make you a Witch – whether you think so or not!

And now for my latest Witch’s Brew~~

SLOW-COOKER SQUASH AND SWEET POTATO SOUP
Yields enough for a small crowd (10 to 20, if they keep it to cups instead of bowls!)

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, peeled & chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove (or 2 small), peeled & diced
  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about ¾” cubes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed
  • 1 14-to-16-ounce can of pumpkin puree (however it’s packaged, but NOT pumpkin pie mix); if you’re into using fresh pumpkin, go for it (I haven’t gone there yet…)
  • 2 medium potatoes (or equivalent in leftover mashed potatoes)
  • 2 large bay leaves (or 3 small)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sage
  • 4 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred, but if not available then use a low or no sodium brand)
  • salt & pepper to your personal taste (but at least a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper!)
  • options for serving: light cream (to stir in); Greek yogurt, sour cream, parsley and/or croutons (for toppings)

Process

  1. In a large frying pan, sauté the onion and sweet potato for about two to three minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or two. Watch carefully, stir as necessary, being sure that the garlic doesn’t burn (if it burns, you’ll have to start over… no “fix” for burned garlic taste!).
  3. Remove frying pan from heat and set aside.
  4. Add the butternut squash and potatoes to the bottom of the slow-cooker.
  5. Spread pumpkin puree over squash and potatoes.
  6. Top contents of slow-cooker with the sautéed contents of the frying pan.
  7. Sprinkle the bay leaf and dried herbs (thyme, parsley & sage) over everything, as well as salt and pepper (you can season further with s&p, if needed, although it’s best to wait until after the soup has cooked fully).
  8. Pour the four cups of chicken broth over the contents of the slow-cooker.
  9. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours. Test at 3½ hours for doneness (potatoes and butternut squash must be well done, enough for a fork to easily pierce). Stir and replace top to cook for added time, if necessary.
  10. When contents are done, removed bay leaves.
  11. Using an immersions blender (or food processor, stand blender or by hand with a masher), puree the mixture to the texture you enjoy most (I like it thick and chunky!).
  12. If it’s thicker than you prefer, feel free to add either more chicken stock or water, a little at a time, stirring in between. (If you plan to add light cream before serving, allow for that extra liquid – although you probably won’t stir in more than ¼ to ½ cup of the dairy if you truly want to savor the vegetables!)
  13. Freeze or serve with options listed above (light cream, to stir in; Greek yogurt, sour cream, parsley and/or croutons, for toppings).

 

How to Get Rave Reviews: Start with Homemade (Chicken, or other) Stock

I started this blogpost last night, first drafting the recipe and then deciding the lead-in (narrative) part would have to wait until today. Since I was scheduled to attend a workshop at East Line Books in Clifton Park, NY this morning on Food and Travel Writing, led by Alison Stein Wellner, I knew it would be later in the day that I’d get back to it. I am now glad it happened that way. As I’d hoped, the info-packed session “pumped me up” again for writing. Not only the foodblog, but for other food-related literature as well. And maybe, just maybe, I might find myself returning to a get-published (as in other-than-self-published) frame of mind.

It’s been a long time since potential acceptance by magazines and journals held any allure for me. I simply want to write. And cook. And do art. And spend time with family and good friends. Alison, however, through one of her short writing exercises, managed to tease out of me an idea for a series of articles that I not only want to write but feel compelled to share with anyone who’ll listen/read. Seeking publication in a relevant magazine might be the best way to do that.

One simple question from Alison, “What fascinates you about food and travel?” – with ensuing suggestions about possible directions our pens might take us in from there – set everyone in the room scribbling. Her best advice: “Write about what fascinates you,” because to do otherwise means you’ll begin to hate it. It will become as much drudgery as any of the worst 9-to-5 jobs you’ve ever held.

This “new” topic fascinates me. Unfortunately, I can’t share it with blog readers right now. It requires nurturing, planning and lots of time (and work) to come to fruition. (If I had time, I’d be signed up for Alison’s workshop at the Capital Region Arts Center next weekend, June 2nd. She’ll be covering The Business of Freelance Writing!)

In the meantime, now that I’ve worked up your curiosity, how about a return to Chicken Stock?
++++++++++

If you’ve been reading this blog for a few months, you’ve probably noticed that I mention the use of boxed stocks in cooking up batches of my soups (and I do love making soup!). I’ve discovered a couple brands that I like. They’re not high in sodium (some sodium-free), plus they’re pretty tasty. So I wasn’t necessarily gung-ho for stirring up a pot o’ the homemade stuff. But reading a relatively new, food-related book changed my mind.

Here’s what I wrote about An Everlasting Meal in my “journal” of books I’ve read (yes, I have a list of every book I’ve read, i.e., completely finished, since 1995; had to do it since I found I couldn’t remember which I’d read and sometimes would begin to read something, only to realize I’d read it a year or two before!):

Adler, Tamar. AN EVERLASTING MEAL: COOKING WITH ECONOMY AND GRACE. Scribner, 2011. Essays on food. Beginning with “How to Boil Water,” Adler caught me up in her beautiful prose. Which often reads like poetry. How about the title of the next chapter, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly”? In which she says to the reader, “A gently but sincerely cooked egg tells us all we need to know about divinity. It hinges not on the question of how the egg began, but how the egg will end. A good egg, cooked deliberately, gives us a glimpse of the greater forces at play.” There are recipes too but not always in a real recipe format. She wants her readers to learn what to do with foods without need of a cookbook. She wants us to love food; not waste it; share it with others because it’s about nourishment and, thus, relationships. A truly wonderful book. Highly recommended, whether you like to cook or not.

A small part of Adler’s desire not to waste the gifts of the earth includes saving the ends, peels and odd chunks of aromatics, as well as bones of fish and fowl and animals, for stocks that add gusto to future meals. I now freeze many of these bits of leftovers and otherwise not usable veggies (except maybe in compost), later to stew up the most delicious stock! Below is the chicken one (to be followed by a future post, with pictures, for a soup that was a mega-hit at the Women Writers and Artists Matrix Weekend in Saratoga earlier this month), but it’s not the only stock I’ve created since reading this exquisite book.

After serving a seldom-seen dinner on our table (lamb), I managed to find time to toss the bones, aromatics and water into a pot, then strain and freeze the results. Last week, I made one of my hubby’s favorite meals, Braised Stew Beef (it makes its own gravy) over noodles. Instead of cooking it down with water added to the extra-large frying pan, I poured in one of the thawed containers of lamb stock. Rave reviews ensued.

You too could get rave reviews. Not from the New York Times food critic, but from someone whose opinion matters more to you. Start with homemade stock.

MARILYN’S HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK
Yields one really, really large stockpot full of delicious liquid!

Prelude to Ingredients: Collect & freeze, over a few weeks or a month, the following –

  • Chicken bones, with any amount of meat still stuck to them (or none at all)
  • Ends cut away from onions, shallots, leeks, carrots, celery, garlic (and maybe more, depending upon your own taste and judgment)
  • Onion, carrot, celery and garlic peelings, pieces and leaves

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil, with a dab of butter added
  • 2 carrots, unpeeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 2 small celery stalks, unpeeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 1 to 2 onions, peeled and quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • all of “Prelude” ingredients listed above – minimum of a 1 gallon zip-lock bag of the veggies; plus at least bones equivalent to 2 chickens, whether chicken parts or whole birds (it’s good to include some bones with bits of dark meat on them, for good flavor)
  • a few grape (or cherry) tomatoes (but only if you have them and wish to include them), halved
  • water to cover all ingredients, and then some… (filtered water is better than tap water, especially if you’re on public water that’s chemically treated – but it’s not required)
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sea salt (or kosher, if preferred; but you can use table salt, just not the whole 2 teaspoons in the latter case)
  • 3 or 4 small sprigs of dried thyme
  • 2 small sprigs of dried rosemary
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest (optional, but a nice touch)

Process:

  1. Sauté the carrots, celery and onion in the oil/butter for about 2 minutes – in a large stockpot. (I lightly salt these at this time too.)
  2. Add garlic to pan; continue to sauté for about a minute more (do not burn the garlic or you’ll have to start over!).
  3. Add the rest of the vegetable items (peels, ends, etc.), along with the grape (or cherry) tomatoes, if using, and the batch of chicken bones. Cover with water – enough to bring it to at least three inches over the ingredients.
  4. Toss in peppercorns, salt, thyme, rosemary, parsley and lemon zest (if using).
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  6. Allow to simmer for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours. You’ll want water to reduce gradually as flavor intensifies.
  7. When the stock meets your own taste-bud test, turn off the heat and let sit for a bit.
  8. After about 20 minutes, strain through a sieve and distribute stock amongst containers in which to freeze – perhaps retaining some to make soup immediately, or use for braising a chicken or other dish.
  9. When cool enough (it’s wise to sit containers in ice bath to get it there- much safer, foodwise), place in freezer for future use. Make sure you’ve marked containers (with labels) with info about what’s in it and date it was frozen!

Sorry – didn’t think to take a picture of the strained stock. Besides, I’m sure all my readers have an idea of what that looks like! Stay tuned, however, for the next post – in which this stock helps to transform butternut squash, pumpkin puree and sweet potato into a thick, savory soup that you’ll want to inhale (it’s that good).

EGG ON MY FACE, POTATO IN MY SOUP, ICING ON THE (CUP)CAKE

There’s an expression here in the USA that might not be familiar to some of my blog followers in other countries. “Egg on My Face” could be a phrase translated to mean, “What was I thinking?” (as in, “Was I thinking at all?”); but more often it’s a big fat “OOPS!” (as in, “How could I do something so stupid?”). In the case of a blog, as in KitchenCauldron, it’s about somehow screwing up the post. Which usually isn’t so bad when it’s just a typo, or one edited-out phrase where the writer failed to take out a word or two (or took out one too many words) – these things mostly are “understood” by the reader and quietly revised when noticed by the blogger.

But in a recipe, the list of ingredients must include all of the ingredients. How else does the cook ensure s/he’s in possession of all necessities for re-creating the recipe?

A couple days ago, I decided I would re-create one of the soups posted on KC, but without the chicken. Basic Potato-Leek Soup (with carrot). Our Spiritual Alchemy group was meeting at Leslie’s again, and the other four of us decided we would be The Makers of the Feast rather than allow Leslie to once again exhaust herself to “make it nice.” (Of course, this didn’t stop her from putting out “just some things already in the fridge and pantry…” but our planning did manage to hold her in check somewhat. Who can blame her—she loves to entertain, especially for her writing/art sisters!)  I’d said I’d bring a soup and would also bake if there was time. Yesterday morning I realized I had to bake – it was imperative that I somehow incorporate four almost-overripe bananas (hanging on the “banana hook” atop our kitchen counter) into something, or they’d go to waste! Luckily, I was out of bed and functioning way-early, with plenty of time before our group met. And so it was that I toted Potato-Leek Soup and Gluten-Free Banana Muffins to Leslie’s.

Since the batch of Potato/Leek with Chicken Soup in my January 30th post turned out so great, I went back to my printed recipe (yes, I eventually print all my foodblog posts, put them in binders and easily refer to them when needed). Much to my surprise and chagrin I discovered that, while I’d included the potatoes in the “Process” part of the post (“Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes – or until potato is tender.”), I’d failed to add potatoes to the “Ingredients” list! Major faux pas. Since then, I’ve corrected the recipe and mentally whipped myself several times for screwing up on proofreading! I have to assume that no one viewing that post has yet tried to make the soup (since there were no complaints or gentle references to something missing) but, just in case anyone printed the recipe, it will have to be re-printed for an accurate rendition (or note the changes by pen or pencil on the copy). I apologize for any convenience.

My minus-the-chicken version, by the way, was a big hit at Leslie’s (with Greek yogurt and gluten-free crouton toppings) – as were the muffins (recipe for latter to be posted at a later date).

Some of that “egg on my face” also comes from my recent, too-long unblogged space on KC. Or, to use an even more appropriate American idiom, turning it into a pun for the recipe in this post, it’s “the icing on the cake” (as in, “added to all the other stuff, this happened”; or, “I have to admit to this…”). Between the business of life lately and, I confess, getting caught up in reading a few books, I haven’t gotten back to the computer except for e-mail and a few Facebook comments. I’ve managed to post some pieces on the KC Food for Thought page, but making those additions are less time-consuming than including a posting with story and recipe.

In my April 6th post, I promised to provide the rest of the recipes from WomanWords’ 15-Year Birthday Reading soon. Honest – they’re all coming! And there are so many other recipes backed-up. And food-related books I want to blog about. I could huddle down, drafting and posting, in my little office/art/writing space and not surface for a couple weeks for anything but food, water and the bathroom – but then I expect the quality of my offerings would begin to deteriorate within a few days (and there’d be no time to cook!). I am a social creature, requiring interaction with friends and family, and a bit of fresh air as well (although I am far from an outdoorsy type!), and so I’ll just do the best I can with this blogging thing.

In the meantime, in the catching-up phase, I’m now providing the frosting recipe for those Heavenly Chocolate Cupcakes served at Caffè Lena during our celebration. It’s easy to make and would also be a great topping for your best white cake (I love white cake with chocolate frosting!).

A quick tip of the (witch’s) hat to the magical aspect of hazelnuts, a major ingredient in the Nutella used in this recipe: According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), the hazelnut’s energies encompass wisdom, conscious mind and fertility. The tree itself, with its round nuts, “played important roles in European folklore and folk religion.” It was linked to sky deities and considered a guardian against lightning, bad storms and fire. While I’m not about to stand under any tree in a lightning storm, I found this interesting. (Hmm, when Hurricane Irene hit this area last August, maybe we could’ve used a few hazelnut trees…) On the other hand, I’m not averse to munching on a few of the delicious nuts on occasion – whether to enhance wisdom or purely for pleasure. And a little fertility where creativity’s concerned wouldn’t hurt either.

HEAVENLY NUTELLA FROSTING
(Yields enough for at least 2½ to 3 dozen cupcakes.)

Ingredients

  • 1½ sticks butter, softened to room temperature (12 tablespoons)
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (more or less)
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons milk (I use 2% but any will do, from skim to full-fat)
  • 1 jar Nutella hazelnut spread (or other hazelnut spread), although you may not use entire jar
  • dash of cinnamon

Process

  1. In a large bowl, beat together all of the butter, about half of the sugar and half of the jar of Nutella. If the mixture is too stiff for beating, add a tablespoon or two  milk.
  2. Add remaining sugar, gradually, and continue to beat ingredients together until smooth, adding a bit more Nutella (1/4 cup?) as well – and, if needed, another tablespoon of milk.
  3. Sprinkle in cinnamon, to taste (you can go beyond the “dash” if you love the spice), and add however much additional Nutella and/or milk required to bring the mixture to a good spreading consistency, as “light” or as dense as you prefer.
  4. Spread on cupcakes. (An option which I did not take for this event would be to sprinkle chopped, toasted hazelnuts in the center of each frosted cupcake top – yummy!)

See—I told you it was easy!

For Potato Lovers Who Also Love Soup: Potato/Leek Soup with Chicken

In early January, I received a notice from a blog to which I subscribe, which is authored by a young woman who moved to the Netherlands from her homeland of the Philippines for good reason: she married a Dutchman. Malou Prestado’s site includes not only recipes but also insights into everyday life in her adopted country, as well as an occasional glimpse into the culture of her birth. It’s called Going Dutch, and Loving It. Her 11/4/12 post provided me with an idea for possibly enhancing a soup I’d already made a few times.

Malou’s post began with, “For yesterday’s dinner, I have [sic] to raid the fridge because I didn’t want to bravely confront the storm on my bike. The fridge revealed the following: potatoes, leeks and carrots (leftover from the bag of carrots I used for the carrot cake I made for the hubby on his birthday). I happened to still have one chicken breast as well and there was still crème fraîche.” I loved the “vision” of that culture, so European, that emerged with the phrase in line one: “on my bike.” I’d have to jump into my little Saturn Aura to drive a minimum of four miles to the closest supermarket to get decent meat. Even if I owned a bicycle of my own, the thought of all those cars on busy roads would deter any thought of biking to Hannaford (my knees wouldn’t like it either!). As for vegetables, even in summer when farmers’ markets are now plentiful around here, one has to drive several miles for good, totally fresh, local produce – and make sure to plan the schedule around which markets are going on and when they happen (my favorites are in Schenectady on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. – this one even runs during winter, but indoors at Proctor’s – and a Saturday market at The Crossings town park in Colonie, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m). This is why we own not only a large refrigerator in the kitchen but also a small freezer in the garage.

I also loved that Marlou talked about what home cooks everywhere do: she “made do” with what she had on hand. I didn’t have all those ingredients in-house, but her Creamy Potato, Leeks and Carrot Soup recipe set me salivating for potato-leek soup, so I made a point to purchase what I needed next time I hit the grocery store. I’d made this soup before (and loved it), but never with chicken. Hey, it was worth a try! Adding a bit more protein to the cauldron works for me.

Besides referring to the Going Dutch version, I also went back to my penciled-in scribbles on a Potato Soup recipe (allegedly French) in my go-to cookbook about soups, Robert Ackart’s A Celebration of Soups (Doubleday & Company, 1982), a book I’ve mentioned on this blog a couple times before. When I created a potato-leek soup from Ackart’s recipe, I made too many changes in it to list here, at least as far as ingredient amounts go; plus instead of water I used a combo of vegetable and chicken broths. I also added a few spices. This most recent concoction obviously included chicken. I didn’t have crème fraîche on hand since it’s an ingredient I buy only when needed for a specific recipe (what would I do with the leftovers?). In fact, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to find crème fraîche in most supermarkets – if you’re looking for it, you’re better off asking at the customer service desk if they carry it because the grocery workers aren’t likely to know what you’re talking about!

Incidentally, on the witchy side (if you’re at all interested), there’s a listing in the back of A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook by Patricia Telesco (Llewellyn Publications, 1994) called “Magical Correlations of Ingredients” in which it totes chicken as associated with “Health, well-being, sunrise magic.” The potato, it suggests, associates with “Folk medicine, health, grounding, earth magic.” (Makes sense: potatoes are root vegetables, ergo earth magic.) Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003) cites leeks for “magical power” stating, “All foods that lend the body strength also lend extra magical power. There’s no difference between the two; there’s only the purpose for which they are used.” I guess that takes care of the basic ingredients in this dish! Oh yeah, the carrots – hold onto your (witch) hats for this one: Cunningham says that, “Prepared and eaten with the correct visualization, carrots may play a part in overcoming psychological impotency,” and further suggests one should “Cook them with parsley and caraway for the best results.” And here I thought that they were merely good for the eyes, beta carotene and all that…

Magical possibilities aside, I just happen to love potatoes – prepared almost any which-way. I was most likely primed by my mother’s mashed potatoes, a side dish she made at least twice a week every week of my childhood. They were so melt-in-the-mouth good that my cousin Mary even asked for – and got – a large bowl of them at her wedding reception! Isn’t that enough to acquire a lifelong addiction to a vegetable?

So here’s my most recent rendition of potato-leek soup, with chicken added this time. Make it as written or, as I do, tweak it to your personal taste! And thank you, Malou, for the inspiration to try it with chicken – it’s delicious!

POTATO/LEEK/CHICKEN SOUP
Yield: about 18 cups of soup

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 full chicken breast, cut into bite-sizes
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into ¼-inch rounds
  • 3 or 4 ribs of celery, chopped (If leaves are still attached and they’re healthy-looking, use them too; I also pare off most of the ribbing on the stalks)
  • 4 or 5 medium-sized leeks, rinsed and chopped, white part only (This time making it, I only had 3 medium leeks and so added a couple teaspoons of dried, diced shallot purchased in October when we visited Salem, Massachusetts – I’d never encountered dried shallot before!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth plus 4 cups chicken broth, preferably sodium-free (or use any combo that adds up to 8 cups)
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 to 10 medium potatoes (perhaps 4 or 6 pounds), peeled and diced into approximately 1 inch or slightly smaller chunks
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley (or ¼ cup dried parsley)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 3 small bay leaves (or 2 large)
  • sprinkle of dried thyme
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons, or up to ¼ cup, heavy cream or light cream (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter (optional)
  • Sea Salt or Kosher Salt, to taste
  • Ground Pepper, to taste
  • Sour cream, Greek yogurt or crème fraîche (optional)
  • More parsley for decoration (optional)

Process

  1. In a large soup kettle, heat the butter and oil together.
  2. Add the chicken and sauté until lightly browned and cooked through.
  3. Remove chicken from pan and set aside, preferably in the refrigerator since it may be some time before re-added to the pan.
  4. Add carrots, celery and leeks to pot, sautéing them in remaining butter/oil (add a bit more oil if not enough left after removing chicken) – about 3 minutes.
  5. Add chopped garlic and continue to sauté for about another minute.
  6. Pour the broth(s) and water into the vegetables mixture.
  7. Add potatoes to pot.
  8. Add parsley, marjoram, bay leaves and thyme.
  9. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes – or until potato is tender.
  10. Remove bay leaves.
  11. At this point, I generally remove about a cup of the broth-liquid, allowing that I’ll want a thick soup and preferring to add liquid after puréeing if it’s needed. It’s insurance that the soup won’t be thinner than I like it. If you prefer a not-so-thick soup, then skip this step. (Also, remember that you’ll be “thinning” it slightly with cream later on, if you choose to do so.)
  12. Whirl the mixture to a smooth texture (or semi-smooth, which is usually my preference), using either an immersion blender (easiest), food processor or blender. The latter two will take a little more time since you’ll have to do it in small batches. If you’ve used the immersion blender, you’ll purée right in the soup pan; if working with a food processor or blender, you’ll return the mixture to the same pan.
  13. Re-add the previously cooked chicken to the kettle, stirring in, and allow about 3 to 5 minutes for them to re-heat.
  14. If mixture is thicker than desired, re-add as much of the reserved broth-liquid as needed to get to preferred consistency.
  15. Stir in the cream (if using) and allow soup to continue to heat for a few minutes. (Unless I know a guest can’t do dairy products, I always add cream—it makes for a richer bowl of warm goodness.)
  16. If using the extra butter, add it to soup. (I often don’t bother – seems like plenty of butter with the sautéing.)
  17. Salt and pepper to your personal taste.
  18. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, Greek yogurt or crème fraîche; sprinkle with some chopped fresh parsley or dried parsley (both of which are optional but do add an extra bit of flavor, besides making for a nice adornment!)

A nice side-salad goes well with this soup, or just some good bread or rolls. On the day after our initial potato soup indulgence this time around, I made sandwiches to add to the dinner fare: black forest ham encased between provolone and cheddar cheese, with sliced tomatoes, on great thick-sliced Italian bread from a local bakery – all grilled up beautifully.

Chicken Chili for Charity

Our daughter works for an agency that’s part of the network of social services in this state. For several years, before it was dismantled by former Governor Pataki, it was a bureau within a much larger Department of Social Services and I was employed there as a Sr. Personnel Administrator for six years before transferring back to a former agency. For this blogpost, the “social services” phrase is key, because it indicates a basic desire to assist those who are unable to fully take care of themselves: the poor, the disabled, those struggling through difficult times. Unfortunately, nowadays that are lots more people in those kinds of situations than when I was part of the workforce. Especially when the holiday season rolls around, no matter how strapped we might ourselves be, there’s always someone else who’s worse off – and one of the best ways to help is through the local Food Pantry.

Every year for I-don’t-know-how-many years, Kristen’s workplace has held a lunchtime chili and bake sale, along with a raffle, to benefit the Food Pantry. They raise so much money that the Food Pantry informed them that they’re one of its biggest cash contributors. A host of employees sign up to cook up chili dishes, which winds up including anything from vegan, vegetarian, poultry or red meat versions. Others volunteer to bake sweeter items for consumption. The raffle is comprised of themed gift baskets filled by several sections within the organization, and the contents of those baskets often include some especially desirable goodies. For instance, Kris’ Systems section theme this year, something like “Cyber Christmas,” included a Bluetooth suitable for many electronics and a $100 gift certificate (to Amazon, if I’m remembering correctly), along with other less pricey items. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to win a basket filled with “rest and relaxation,” including a gift certificate to the Inn at Saratoga, enough for an overnight and a meal for two (we opted to skip the overnight and do the meal, inviting my brother and his wife along—the foodfare at the Inn is awesome!).

For years, I’ve purchased raffle tickets in support of this event. This year, I wanted to do more so I asked Kristen if they needed additional chili. I knew they often ran out before everyone got to the sale room (sometimes Kristen didn’t get any since the meatless ones disappear quickly). She checked with folks and it was a Go. I was told they had lots of vegetarian sign-ups this year, so I opted to make chicken chili. I decided I’d bring a slowcookerful for the sale, plus a separate container for our daughter (ensuring she gets some!). Below you’ll find my recipe.

I loved creating this chili on the Monday before Thanksgiving (sale was the next day), dancing and singing to holiday music playing on the kitchen radio, chopping and dicing, sautéing and stirring. I used the largest metal pot I own and wound up with enough for the sale, Kristen’s “care packages,” and ourselves as well. “Chilghetti” (chili on spaghetti) is one of Bill’s favorite meals, albeit usually with ground beef, so that’s how I served it that evening. Next day, we drove downtown and delivered the heated-up casserole (transferred to my slowcooker) and Kristen’s individual portions to the chili site. People in the elevator, noticing the slowcooker, smiled at us while asking, “Chili?” Later, I was told there were many compliments on it, so I’m providing Kris with the link to this post so she can give it to co-workers who might want to try cooking up a batch themselves.

Last I heard, the total donation for the Food Pantry from the sale exceeded $6,000. Next day, the day before Thanksgiving when not so many workers were around, they still sold leftover hot dogs at lunchtime although, alas, no chili dogs – the chili had sold out. No dessert either, all baked goods having been enjoyed earlier too!

I’m hoping that if you’re in a position to help someone in need during the holiday season, you too will find a way to reach out in whatever way that makes you feel good. If you’re one of those people in need of assistance yourself, please realize there are people who care and do what they can, even if in very small ways. We are all part of a larger community, an entire planet, and we cannot survive without peace, understanding and caring.

Notes About the Recipe:
• I used frozen peppers because I already had them. Fresh are even better. If they’re fresh, however, include them in the initial sauté with the onions
• If you’ve got fresh celery, chop that up and use it (sautéed with onions); I used celery seed. because  all the fresh stuff went into soup the day before! The chili included a combo of homemade chicken stock and boxed broth. Canned stock works fine.
• Fresh herbs are always great, but my parsley plants with away along with the warm weather! Remember to use half the amount of dried herbs than you’d use fresh; drying them intensifies their taste/aroma.
• Don’t skip rinsing the beans. It gets rid of lots of the salt in the canned beans so the cook gets to choose her/his own level of salting!

 

CHICKEN CHILI FOR CHARITY
Makes about 28-30 one-cup servings

Ingredients

4-to-5 lbs. boneless chicken (I used breasts & thighs; could add legs), cut into 1-to-1½ inch size

4 or 5 yellow onions (about 2 lb.), cut in half and sliced or chopped
1 lb. carrots (minis or regular), cut into small chunks
8-oz. frozen green and red pepper strips
½ of a 6-oz. bag of frozen chopped green peppers (or dump the whole bag in, if you like)
5 garlic cloves, chopped
Fresh-ground sea salt (kosher or table salt are ok too)
Fresh-ground black pepper
¼ tsp. celery seed

2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 6-oz. cans tomato paste
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce, plus 8 oz. canful of water

3 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tbsp. cumin
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (regular cinnamon is okay but Saigon is more intense)
⅛ to ¼ tsp. nutmeg (I did fresh-ground but I’m a nutmeg-nut; already ground kind is fine)
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
2 cups chicken stock (homemade, boxed or canned)
2 additional cups chicken stock, reserved (in case needed)
2 cups vegetable stock

Combination of beans – mine included:
2 15-oz. cans dark kidney beans
1 15-oz can light kidney beans
2 15.5-oz cans cannellini (white kidney beans)
1 15.5-oz can great northern beans
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

2 tbsp. dried parsley

The Process

    • Sauté the onions and carrots for 2-3 minutes, along with fresh salt and pepper (to taste).
    • Add the garlic and peppers; continue to sauté for about 2 minutes.

    • While vegetables simmer in pan, begin to sauté chicken in a separate (frying) pan, browning it a bit. You will probably have to do this in a couple batches.

    • Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water and tomato sauce to simmering vegetables. Simmer for 2 more minutes.
    • Once all chicken is somewhat browned, add it to the pot.
    • Pour in the first 2 cups of chicken stock (not the reserved 2 cups) plus the vegetable stock.

    • Combine the spices and herbs (chili powders, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme) and add to chili mixture (or toss them in individually—doesn’t make a difference so long as you’re stirring well!).

    • Simmer for about 45 minutes, checking regularly to be sure there’s enough liquid. If not, add more of the (reserved) chicken broth.
    • After 45 minutes, add the parsley and all the beans.



    • Cook for 20 more minutes, again checking in case more liquid is needed. If you run out of broth, a little water will work just as well.

  • Serve on its own, or over pasta or spaghetti. Its flavor also tends to deepen overnight, as with all tomato/herb-enhanced dishes. We like it with grated cheddar, parmesan or asiago cheese on top. A dab of sour cream or Greek yogurt is a nice touch too, if you’ve got some in the fridge.