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!

Advertisements

LENTIL SOUP – EARTHY RECIPE, UNDER A WATER SIGN!

According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), lentils – a major staple in many diets around the world – possess the “energy” of Peace. Their element is water (and how would we eat them if we couldn’t cook them in liquid?), despite what I’d describe as an earthy taste, and their “planet” is the Moon (water… tides… get it?). Cunningham says to “eat it for peace.” I envision a whole day designated for making peace in the world, with everyone slurping lentil soup as part of the overall symbolism. On a full stomach, who can make war?

Peace wasn’t what I had in mind, however, when I made a large batch of it recently. It was about the next couple recipes to cover for From Scratch Club on GoodReads. Part of the assignment for FSC was to make another recipe from The Homemade Pantry, selecting from either Chapter 5 (or “Aisle” 5, as author Alana Chernila calls it), which covers Soups, or from Chapter/Aisle 6, entitled “Baking Needs & Mixes.” I made the soup from Aisle 5, then opted for Alana’s Yellow Cake in the following chapter (also made Corn Bread to go with Lentil Soup but not from this cookbook, although quite similar). Today’s post covers how I prepared the Lentil Soup, based on the book’s instructions but with my own revisions.

Dad (right) w/Uncle Champ & cousin Marge

Bill loves lentil soup. I enjoy it and especially like that lentils don’t take a long time to cook! Growing up, however, I don’t remember these tiny “beans” ever being present in our household. It was the 50s and 60s, and convenience foods were big in this country, especially soup-wise (think: Campbell’s).

Mom & Dad (Dolly & George), circa 1969

In our household if homemade soups were conjured up, Dad usually created them. And he had only two in his repertoire: Vegetable Beef and Manhattan Clam Chowder. In truth, they were the same concoction, except the first one got the beef and the flavor it created when the meat chunks were browned, and the chowder included clams (usually Little Necks). Otherwise, pretty much the same vegetables and spices. You’d think that our father’s taking over some cooking once in a while would be a gift to Mom, and she did appreciate it. Until it got to clean-up. It seems that Dad’s short stint as a cook in the army during the war made him prone to producing very large batches of soup, resulting in lots of clean-up detail (which he was perhaps used to leaving to other soldiers to handle). Mom always seemed to be the one handling clean-up in our flat’s tiny kitchen, a space not equipped with “instant” hot water. She had to be sure to light a flame under the gas water tank early on, so she’d have enough hot water to wash all the dishes!

If I need another reason to like lentils, it’s their awesome nutrition profile. 100 Best Health Foods (Love Food, an imprint of Paragon Books, 2009), a book that details health benefits of some foods determined to be best for our bodies and overall well-being, lists their major nutrient levels and further emphasizes that lentils are especially rich in fiber, have a high iron content, and contain plant chemicals to help alleviate PMS symptoms (wish I’d known that a couple decades ago) and aid in bone health. Their high zinc content also boosts the immune system. We’re talking a food that, from ancient times, has nourished the human race (almost 2,000 years before Christ was born, the Egyptians apparently traded lentils for the prized cedars of Lebanon!).

But few people want to be told how good something is for them (try it on a kid—see how far it’ll get you toward convincing them to eat broccoli or Brussels sprouts…). We want to know it tastes good. And this recipe is delicious – hot, earthy mouthfuls of flavor.

Note about this recipe: I adjusted things like:

  • salt (ran out of unsalted butter; used low-sodium soy sauce instead of regular soy)
  • didn’t have white onions on hand (used red)
  • chopped celery instead of minced
  • delayed when to add lentils (used dried red lentils instead of raw green or French lentils, which cook faster and would disintegrate if added early)
  • added parsnip and extra potatoes
  • added a mix of some herbs (some dried, some frozen from pots on my deck this summer).

EARTHY LENTIL SOUP
(with thanks to Alana Chernila for original recipe from which this is derived)
Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter (as noted above, I used salted butter; if using unsalted, adjust for difference)
  • 1 cup chopped onion (white onion ok, but I had milder red ones!)
  • ½ teaspoon fine-ground sea salt (table salt ok), plus more if desired
  • 1 cup peeled, chopped celery (if celery has leaves, use them too!)
  • 1 cup peeled, chopped carrots
  • 1 medium-to-large parsnip, chopped
  • 3 cups dried red lentils
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 cups peeled and chopped potatoes
  • 7 to 10 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade preferred but not required) or water, or any combo of stock and water
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1½ tablespoons light brown sugar (yup! who’da thought?!)
  • 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce (according to Alana, tamari is ok too)
  • up to 2 or 3 tablespoons of a combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram and/or oregano (Alana’s recipe calls for most of these [marjoram is my add-on] as garnish; I included them as actual last-minute additions to soup; some of these were frozen from my summer potted herbs, others were dried – all are optional but add nice flavor )

Process

  1. Melt butter in large soup pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion to butter; sauté for one minute or until shiny.
  3. Add salt, garlic, celery, parsnip and carrots to pan. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until aromatic and shiny.
  4. Add bay leaf, potatoes and about 7 cups of stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour.
  5. Stir lentils into pot. Bring to boil again, return to medium-low and cover. Check as it cooks, making sure it does not become too thick or dry; if it does, add more stock or water (I wound up using all 9 cups of stock plus a bit of filtered water). Cook for about another 45 minutes.
  6. Add pepper, brown sugar and soy sauce. Remove bay leaf. Cook for about another 10 to15 minutes.
  7. Add combo of herbs, if using. Simmer an additional 5 to 10 minutes if needed (check doneness of lentils and potatoes to gauge this).
  8. Adjust for salt and pepper, then serve!

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.
+++++

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!

ALMOST-IRISH STEW for the Slow-Cooker, with SHAMROCK IRISH SODA BREAD

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day dawned sunny and warm. We’ve been breaking records this March with temperatures reaching into the high 60s and low 70s. That continuing trend, into yesterday, made for a huge turnout for Albany’s annual St. Pat’s Day parade – an event which we missed but were well-informed about by my Aunt Pat later in the day (the crowd, we were advised, was 8-to-10-deep along the parade route).

After my spending a good deal of the day writing for and posting to KitchenCauldron (the latter with some difficulty – for some reason, WordPress wasn’t taking some pictures), and Bill’s working on staining some furniture to go with the new hardwood floor he installed in Adrian’s room, the hubby popped his head into my office and asked, “Were you going to get outside today, go anywhere?”

“You suggesting something?” I asked.

“Well, I passed Kurver’s yesterday and it looked like it’s open.” Kurver’s Kreme happens to be my favorite spot for soft ice cream. Especially when it’s vanilla twisted with some sort of sherbert that I love (orange, watermelon, raspberry…). Besides, I consider the re-opening of Kurver’s each spring to be the first sign of spring’s return!

My answer: “YES!”

I had lamb in the fridge that had been thawing for Irish Stew, which I planned to make on St. Patrick’s Day the “regular” way (sans slow-cooker). If we went out somewhere, it wasn’t likely I was going to start cooking upon returning home at, say, five or six o’clock with a target of eating dinner at around 9 p.m. (and dishes not done ’til close to midnight). Luckily, there was a solution to this quandary.

“How about we head over to the North Albany American Legion Post, where Aunt Pat told me she’d be going after riding in the parade? Open to the public – and corned beef and cabbage at a really reasonable price!” I knew my aunt would be thrilled to see us turn up, and she was. We also got to meet two of her nieces from her Irish clan, as well as a nephew and his wife.

The corned beef and cabbage dinner was superb. Meat done so well it was falling apart. Cabbage and potatoes perfectly tender, and delish when topped with butter and pepper. And then off to Kurver’s for dessert (we both went for the vanilla-pistachio twist on a cone).

Marilyn & Bill, 35th anniversary, reading "re-commitment vows" to each other.

Now I should mention that St. Patrick’s Day is a sort of anniversary for my husband and me. Or maybe I shouldn’t, but I am mentioning it anyway. Our 40th wedding anniversary is at the end of next month, but this one dates back a few years before we married. Not exactly a fairy tale though.

Once upon a time, in a city eked out by the Dutch but home to myriad immigrant groups in the years since colonial times, a young Irish-American man went out merry-making on St. Patrick’s Day. The green-eyed, curly-haired twenty-something visited several establishments at which the Wearing o’ the Green was being celebrated on that day (and into the night and wee hours of the morning), indulging perhaps in corned beef and cabbage and soda bread, and definitely in plenty of green beer. He himself proudly sported a lovely green-tinted carnation boutonniere – but anyone would’ve known he owned an Irish heritage without such a token sign of the Green Isle. You only had to glance at the pale skin, the freckles and that slightly pug nose. He might as well have had the map of Ireland tattooed on his forehead.

Not far from the young man’s St. Pat’s Day rovings, a young woman of his acquaintance had pretty much settled into a quiet evening in the apartment she shared with one other woman. She wasn’t Irish or Irish-American and, while she’d often celebrated the holiday over the years, she hadn’t “done the bars” for this year’s big day. Instead, she found herself reading a good book and retiring to bed reasonably early (considering that it was a very good book and she could hardly put it down).

The young not-Irish woman awoke an hour or two later, to the ringing of the doorbell. Now we’re talking the late ’60s, so most of us weren’t scared-out-of-our-wits to open the door without looking out a peephole or shouting down from a window to determine who dared show up at such an ungodly hour. This is what she did, just went downstairs to answer the ring. And found the green-eyed, green-boutonniered guy at her doorstep.

It happened that this young lady, of mixed immigrant stock (some of the Dutch; a little German and Russian; and more recently on the paternal side, Polish), already had a wicked crush on the inebriated Irish-American who had just appeared at her apartment. She welcomed him into her place. They talked for a while. He left the next morning, most likely hung over, leaving the green carnation with the sleepy-eyed girl.

The gods of their childhood religion did not send lightning bolts down upon the young man, nor on the young woman either. Neither of them believed they were doomed to an inferno. It was, after all, the ’60s. They were not hippies but they still listened to the voices of their generation. OK, no lightning bolts, but one of The Gods of Albany’s Streets had managed to leave a parking ticket on the poor guy’s car before he stumbled out into the sunlight on the day after St. Paddy’s Day.

And they didn’t live happily ever after either. It was touch and go for a few years. Three, if you must know. After which they made a pretty nice life together, having two anniversaries to celebrate each year.

+++++

What can follow such a tale? I guess it just has to be about the recipes – so here are a few notes about the two recipe in this post (a double-header, if you’re into baseball terminology!). And then will come the how-to if you’re interested in trying them yourself.

My Irish Stew originated out of an old cookbook that I still hold onto because it’s been good to me. It’s called The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes you should have gotten from your grandmother, by Jeff Smith (William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1990). I also have two other cookbooks by Smith – his original one and a book on Italian cooking. From just The Irish Immigrants chapter of Our Immigrant Ancestors alone, I’ve made the Lamb Stew (the original source for this recipe) plus Colcannon and Dublin Coddle. (Unfortunately, I can’t ever pick up one of his books without recalling the big scandal that befell him later in his career, with charges that he was a pedophile. But that’s nothing to do with the fact that he was a food genius.) I changed my basic stovetop recipe slightly from the Frugal Gourmet’s, but this slowcooker version is considerably different. Here’s how:

  • First off, I used less lamb. Also, as it turned out this (first) time around with the slowcooker recipe, the lamb I had defrosted for the stew was not the already-cut-for-stew version. Two of the three packages were chops, with bones, so I found myself taking time to cut the meat away. (Not to waste those good bones, I put them in a sauce pan with some onion, carrot, garlic and water and boiled them down to make some lamb stock.)
  • Next change: the Gourmet’s recipe calls for “thickly sliced bacon.” I went for Canadian style bacon instead this time, cutting the fat a bit. (Great decision, it turns out – tasted much the same, which is to say, “Great!” If you decide you’d like to opt for the “regular” bacon, then you’d be better off frying the bacon first and then browning the lamb in bacon fat – in which case, you probably won’t need the oil and butter).
  • Jeff Smith deglazed his frying pan with ½ cup water. I used some of the beef stock, while the Canadian bacon and garlic were still in the pan.
  • I also used less beef stock overall, since moisture in a slowcooker is completely retained. I didn’t want to waterlog the whole stew, so to speak.
  • I cut the sugar in half.
  • I added a twig of dried rosemary (figuring it would go well not only with lamb, but also with thyme).
  • I never cook with wine or alcohol of any kind, and the Frugal Gourmet did not offer another option (and didn’t say the wine was optional either). I substituted with extra beef stock – ½ cup.
  • Incidentally, the cookbook calls it Lamb Stew. I used to call it Irish Stew, but the Irish Stew we once ingested that was cooked by an honest-to-god Irishman (our landlord over three decades ago) was quite bland, as I think the authentic stuff tends to be. So I’ve renamed it Almost-Irish Stew. With bacon in it, along with a couple spices no poverty-stricken Irishman “back in the day” would’ve been able to afford (and might not have even heard of), it’s more like a concoction contrived after that poor Irishman had discovered the leprechaun and his pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow!

As for the Soda Bread, that recipe came from a woman I worked with during the six looonnng years I spent as a Sr. Personnel Administrator with the New York State Department of Social Services. I wasn’t crazy about the work atmosphere, but I did meet some good people and I do have to say I organized some great holiday bring-a-dish lunchtime parties. I think a St. Patrick’s Day one was the first of them. Many a good recipe came home with me from those events. I have no idea where the “Shamrock” portion of the Soda Bread’s title came from, but it sounds festive. Only three changes to that original recipe:

  • I didn’t use only raisins for the fruit. Cut-up dried apricots, I decided, would add color and a little bit of sweetness to the bread.
  • I soaked the fruit before adding it to the mixture – not just in water. A bit of apple cider sounded good to me!
  • The recipe below simply gives “buttermilk” as an ingredient. I didn’t have fresh buttermilk in the refrigerator. The last “leftover” buttermilk had been tossed out a few days before, about 2 weeks past its supposed expiration date. I do keep what’s called “cultured buttermilk blend” by SACO in our fridge. SACO’s instructions say to mix their powder with the dry ingredients and then add their directed amount of water (according to how much buttermilk is required for the recipe) with the liquid ingredients. I figured it would be even richer if I used milk instead of water. In fact, we stock only 1% or 2% milk, so I included a little bit of light cream in part of the liquid.

And now on to the recipes for tonight’s dinner. No green carnations adorned the table (although Bill did look for some at the market earlier in the day). Just a couple plastic shamrocks. But the meal was oh-so-good!

ALMOST-IRISH STEW, converted to slow-cooker status
Yields enough stew to serve at least 6 to 8,
perhaps with leftovers (which taste even better than Day 1!)

Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 lbs. boneless lamb (possibly lamb shoulder), cut into ½ to 2 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon of fresh ground pepper (or to taste)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil (possibly more, as needed)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (ditto to above, maybe more)
  • 4 to 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 to 1½” pieces
  • 2 large onions, peeled & quartered, somewhat pulled apart by layers
  • 6 or 7 potatoes, peeled & quartered (should be fairly uniform in size
  • 8 to 10 round slabs of Canadian Bacon (or use regular bacon, but see note above re changes I made to recipe) – cut into small pieces (or into strips, if you prefer)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
  • 2 to 2½ cups Beef Stock
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a sprig of fresh or dried rosemary
  • ½ cup of dry white wine, or substitute additional beef stock
  • additional salt & pepper, to taste
  • Chopped parsley to garnish (optional)

Process

  1. Position your slow-cooker, or crockpot (or however you refer to it), on the counter or table near where you will be prepping your stew ingredients. Ideally, it’s also where you’ll be plugging it in to cook – but then one’s kitchen is not usually set up to accommodate every single adventure into cooking or baking! Take the cover off and set aside, so it’s ready to receive the ingredients as you prep them.
  2. Ensure your cut-up lamb is of uniform size so that they will cook evenly.
  3. In a large zip-lock plastic bag (or in a large mixing bowl), place the flour, salt and pepper. Shake it to blend.
  4. Add lamb chunks to bag, zip it up, and shake until they are coated with flour mixture.
  5. In a large frying pan (12”, if you have one), melt the butter in the oil over medium heat. Then add the flour-coated lamb to the pan, hopefully in one layer. Brown lamb over medium-to-medium-high heat until it’s got a little color (slow-cookers don’t brown meat). Do not cook all the way through. Do not put that pan into the dishpan after it’s browned enough, and do not toss out any drippings that might be left!
  6. While the lamb is browning, place carrots and potatoes in the bottom of the slow-cooker. Top with most of the onion (save a little to go atop the lamb, which will be the last layer).
  7. Scoop the lamb into the slow-cooker, distributing it evenly atop the vegetables. Sprinkle remaining onion atop.
  8. If needed, add a little more oil and/or butter to the frying pan. Then add the Canadian bacon, just leaving it to sauté for about a minute, so it can soak up more flavor. Add the garlic, stir and sauté for an additional minute.
  9. Add a little of the beef stock to the pan and stir, deglazing while bacon and garlic remain in pan.
  10. Distribute contents of the pan (bacon, garlic and stock) over the lamb.
  11. Sprinkle the sugar and thyme over top of the slow-cooker ingredients.
  12. Pour the remaining beef stock over everything.
  13. Tuck the bay leaf into the middle of the lamb mixture, pushed down a bit into the rest of the mixture.
  14. Place the rosemary sprig on top.
  15. Pour the wine, if using, or the extra beef stock over the mixture.
  16. Secure slow-cooker cover in place, set it for LOW cooking and expect it will take 7 to 8 HOURS at that temp. Make sure it’s plugged in too (yet another kitchen faux pas in Marilyn’s past!) You might check it at 7 or 7½ hours but be aware that, once you take the cover off a slow-cooker it means you’ll have to add 20 minutes to the remaining anticipated cooktime.
  17. When the stew is done to perfection, remove the bay leaf and the rosemary twig (if some of the leaves remain in the stew, it’s all to the good).
  18. Stir the mixture to re-distribute ingredients, then adjust seasoning if necessary (salt/pepper).
  19. Sprinkle with parsley (optional).
  20. Accompany with Irish Soda Bread, just for authenticity! OK, for deliciousness too. And, of course, I happen to have the best recipe ever for Soda Bread too…

SHAMROCK IRISH SODA BREAD
Yields one (1) “loaf” (baked in a 9” round cake pan)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dark seedless raisins
  • ½ cup chopped dried apricots (optional; if not using, you might add a little extra raisins, if you like)
  • ½ cup apple cider (optional)
  • water, to cover raisins & apricots
  • 4 cups unbleached, unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespooons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk (see note in narrative above for my substitution)
  • butter, melted (for drizzling top after baking – about 2 tablespoons)
  • sugar, for sprinkling top

Process

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place raisins and apricots in a small, microwave-proof glass or ceramic bowl. Pour apple cider over the fruit. Add water enough to cover all the fruit. Microwave for about 1 ½ to 2 minutes, to heat the water to warm. Set aside to allow raisins and apricots to soak for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, caraway seeds, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  4. Drain the raisins and apricots.
  5. Stir the fruit into the flour mix, ensuring it distributes well.
  6. Pour the buttermilk into the mixture and mix with a fork until the dough is formed, with no bits of dusty flour hiding beneath the dough.
  7. Bake in either a 9” x 9” square pan or a 9” round cake pan for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester or knife slipped into its center comes out clean.
  8. Drizzle melted butter over the entire bread.
  9. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar (or raw sugar, if you choose).
  10. Cool for about 15 minutes before removing from pan to serving platter.
  11. Serve warm or save for later!

 

Tomato Soup, with secret ingredient revealed

Have I mentioned that I love soup? I mean, I LOVE soup.

Why? In most cases, it’s relatively easy to make. Often quick too, with any time-consuming aspect almost always turning out to be the prepping of vegetables – rinsing, peeling, chopping, maybe rinsing again. Sometimes it’s great for using up leftovers. And a simple way to pack in all those “colors of the rainbow” in foods that we’re told aid us in providing adequate nutrition for our bodies. Soup is comfort food, good for the soul (however you might define that word, whether mystical or creative or both). Hot soup warms the innards; cold soup makes a hot, humid summer day seem less oppressive.

So I was going to visit my Aunt Pat earlier this week (see KC post of November 25, 2011, if you missed it, to learn a little about her), and I’d promised to bring soup for lunch again. She was providing the sandwich filling. I would stop for a good bread and a variety of potential toppings for the soup.

Uncle Doug, in naval uniform

There was a purpose to this visit this time around, aside from the usual checking in with a special relative. I would be interviewing her about Uncle Doug, her deceased husband, one of my mother’s older brothers, for a short write-up about his service during World War 2. My husband has nominated him to be honored at an Albany County “Honor a Vet” ceremony (a monthly event), and the “bio” is a prerequisite to scheduling him for one of the slots this summer. Given the fact that my uncle served on the USS Intrepid during a good part of his wartime experience, Bill thought he was an excellent candidate for this. Anyone who spent WW2 time on the Intrepid – known as “indestructible” since the aircraft carrier survived five kamikaze attacks – did a tough stint.

Uncle Doug & Aunt Pat, 1961

I remember that, as kids, all of the cousins loved it when Uncle Doug would pull out his Intrepid “souvenirs” to show us. Since my immediate family lived in a flat across the hall from Aunt Pat and Uncle Doug, we felt privileged to be able to peruse his “logbook” from the ship (no, not like the captain’s logbook!). It was like thumbing through a high school yearbook, examining all the pictures, except that this was serious stuff. These men had helped to “save the Free World” and many of the men in those photos hadn’t survived to enjoy the victory. They’d died for us. Of course, our chests would puff out with pride because our uncle – the soft-spoken, everyday guy across the hall who loved to fish and sometimes hung out at Leo’s Tavern – was there, and he lived to tell about it. Except, like many a war veteran, he didn’t talk about it much, not even with his wife. Still, he’d point out where he stood in a formal photograph of the crew; and then he might pull out the huge silk Japanese flag he’d brought home, with its gigantic red rising sun, and allow us to run our fingers over its smooth surface.

In the early 1990s, when our daughter Kristen was a student at School of Visual Arts in New York City, we made a point of touring the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on a weekend while visiting her. Our kids too had perused Uncle Doug’s Intrepid book by then, and Kris was definitely gung-ho about making it to the museum. It was awesome for my mother, Bill, Kristen and me to be walking the same deck that Uncle Doug must’ve trod thousands of times, to see where he would’ve eaten and slept, to imagine what life must’ve been like in those crowded quarters for sailors in mortal danger on a daily basis. I felt bad that Aunt Pat had never been able to get to NYC to see it (she still hasn’t – and it’s a lot of walking, so I’m not sure she could at this point). I felt proud that my uncle had been a crew member on the Intrepid.

Kristen & Mom (Dolly) on deck at the Intrepid Museum

Since she and Uncle Doug never had any children, Aunt Pat has passed on many of those “souvenirs” to nieces and nephews. Originally, I had the Intrepid’s “logbook” but I gave it to my brother George’s son, Matt, who is a history professor at a local community college (in fact, he focused on military history in college, having taken many of his undergraduate credits, and I think his Master’s, at Oxford, Kings College, in the UK). Aunt Pat gave Matt a few other wartime items as well. During our interview, I learned that cousin Doug got the Rising Sun flag. It’s like the disbursement of goods after the war’s over with – however, our generation didn’t bring about the victory; we merely inherited the great gifts hard-won by generations before us: years of freedom, ever hopeful for a brighter future.

**********
Maybe I should call this Victory Soup, or Intrepid Soup. Intrepid after all, does claim amongst its synonyms (according to Rodale’s The Synonym Finder) the words bold, undaunted, dashing, audacious, daring. It’s #1 synonym is fearless, and I could say I had to put aside fear as I experimented with this batch of tomato soup. For one thing, I’d promised soup, hadn’t made it ahead and frozen any, and then we were away for most of the weekend. I hadn’t checked cabinets for supplies beforehand and, when we returned home on Sunday night, I was too tired to cook anything anyway. I waited until morning to decide what to do….

Not lots of fresh veggies in the fridge. An inspection of the appropriate drawer, however, revealed three skinny carrots, lots of onions, about half a bunch of celery, and several vegetables that didn’t interest me for this project (actually a couple of the latter found their way into the garbage, a little overdue for trashing). On the counter in the garlic keeper, I found I still had garlic. No boxed chicken stock though. I nixed the beef and went for the vegetable stock. OK, the basics to start a soup – what next?

I thought I’d make pumpkin soup, minus the hollowed-out pumpkins used as bowls (see December 12, 2011 KC blogpost). Several cans of organic pumpkin stared down at me from the top shelf of the cabinet. Unfortunately, checking another shelf for the one sweet potato I knew was there, safely ensconced in a paper bag, I decided it wasn’t in great shape (it too met the garbage). I like texture in my soup, which sweet potato supplies, plus it adds a nice flavor twist. No sweet potato – no pumpkin soup.

My next thought was, I could stop at that terrific little café next to the Spectrum Theater, not far from Aunt Pat’s, and buy some soup. Well, nope. I’m just vain enough to want to bring my aunt homemade stuff, my homemade not a restaurant’s, no matter how good theirs might be. Then I thought, Ah, how about semi-homemade, like Sandra-What’s-Her-Name on Food Network? I noted that I had a couple cans of Wolfgang Puck’s organic tomato basil soup, purchased recently on sale, so I grabbed them, placing them on the counter.

Carrots, onions, celery, garlic. Butter and olive oil to sauté them in. Hmm, I grabbed 2 cans of organic diced tomatoes, plus a larger box of Italian-import tomatoes (diced also) I’d bought on a whim. I hadn’t made tomato soup in a while and now I was getting excited. Sea salt, fresh ground pepper, a bit of dried basil. Oh yeah—the fresh parsley in that drawer was still good-to-go! How about a touch of nutmeg? I was on a roll.

I opened the refrigerator door again, pulled open the drawer to the right of the vegetable drawer, where I usually store fruit. Tomatoes are fruit, despite having been labeled otherwise by governments, markets and more over the years. Voilà! Grape tomatoes! And one lonely, beautiful blood orange. Somewhere in my brain a few sparks were flying – I knew I’d seen recipes that combined tomatoes and oranges before, especially in soups. Yup the secret ingredient! Orange, plus I’d roast the cherry tomatoes and add them after the basic soup was puréed.

Would Aunt Pat like this soup? I knew she liked tomato soup (usually out of a can), so I was counting on it. With time constraints (it was about 7 a.m. and I was expected by 1 p.m. – and it wasn’t just the soup that had to get done), I didn’t bother writing down ingredients or how I prepared it. That wasn’t all I didn’t bother with—or forgot to do. Later, I brought along my camera to take pictures but forgot all about it as we chatted and slurped away (pictures with this post come from the portion I kept at home for Bill and me to finish off – which we did, deliciously!).

I don’t feel at all guilty when I tell you that the bold-tasting, yummy soup recipe below constitutes, in a few instances, an approximation of what went into Marilyn the Soup Lady’s latest creation. That’s the way soup happens, in my opinion. You’ll go your own way, as Fleetwood Mac might say – do what you will with this recipe. Oh – you’ll probably have noticed that I didn’t wind up using the canned soup. Ol’ Wolfgang is back up on the shelf, ready for a semi-homemade day some other time.

By the way, both Aunt Pat and I enjoyed two helpings, along with olive-oil-and-rosemary bread slathered with the egg salad she’d prepared.

AUDACIOUS TOMATO-WITH-BLOOD-ORANGE SOUP
Yields from 12 to 16 servings, depending upon size of servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, skins removed, diced
  • 3 carrots (only 2 if they’re large and thick), peeled and diced
  • 2 or 3 celery stalks, ribs pared off, diced
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, skins removed, diced almost to a mince
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 cups vegetable stock or broth (chicken stock will do just as well)
  • 55-60 ounces of canned or boxed (not fresh), diced tomatoes, low or no-salt added
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (can substitute with 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
  • zest of one blood orange (any other kind of orange would also work)
  • juice of ½ of one blood orange (eat the other half! it’s sweeter than most oranges; if can’t find blood oranges, use any kind of orange)
  • grape tomatoes, halved (I had about 18-20 of them; use more if you like)
  • a pinch or two of nutmeg and/or cinnamon (optional – and I think I even used a pinch of ground cardamom too!)
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Optional toppings: sour cream, crème fraiche or Greek yogurt; croutons or other crunchy topping (I had tortilla strips) for contrasting texture

Process:

  1. Melt the butter in the olive oil in a large pot (I used my Dutch oven).
  2. Sauté onion, carrot and celery for about 3 minutes, salting and peppering lightly when first added to pot.
  3. Add the garlic to the onion mixture. Sauté for an additional minute or so, taking care not to burn the garlic.
  4. Add a cup of the vegetable broth and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the diced tomatoes, including all juice from the can or box. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes, when all the vegetables should be thoroughly cooked and tender.
  6. While the tomato mixture simmers, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (400 if your oven runs cooler).
  7. Spread the halved grape tomatoes out on a small, low-rimmed pan. Sprinkle or mist them with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with some of the dried parsley and sea salt.
  8. Roast the tomatoes for about 10 to 15 minutes, until they soften and perhaps begin to brown a bit in places (I turn them over once, shifting them around). Remove and set aside on a trivet or wire rack when done.
  9. Once tomato mixture has sufficiently simmered, stir in the orange zest and juice, basil, and parsley.
  10. Using an immersion blender (the easiest method), food processor or standard blender, purée the mixture to the texture you prefer (I like it to actually have some texture, not be totally smooth).
  11. If the soup is too “soupy” for your taste at this point, simply simmer it for a while longer. If thicker than you’d like it, carefully stir in more vegetable broth, a little at a time; simmer for a another 10 minutes or so just to blend the flavor in.
  12. Add the roasted cherry tomatoes.
  13. Stir in the nutmeg, cinnamon and/or cardamom, if using.
  14. Salt and pepper, to taste.
  15. Scoop into bowls and add optional toppings, if you desire them.

I was tempted to add some light cream to the soup, but the flavors were so perfect it seemed almost sacrilegious to think of it. As mentioned above, my aunt and I indulged in two helpings each. And we tried it with both crème fraische and sour cream. Delectable and comforting both ways!

Split Pea and Ham Soup – So Delish Even I Liked It!

This one’s especially for Pat Gilmore, who now lives in California but resided in Windsor, Ontario (Canada) when I first met her at an IWWG (International Women’s Writing Guild) “Remember the Magic” summer conference in 1995. We were “suite mates” in the dorm and took the same playwriting class every day of that magical week at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. Upon reading a mention of my making this soup – either in an e-mail or on this blog – Pat wrote that she was looking forward to the post about split pea soup because it’s one of her favorites. She’s not particularly into cooking but loves reading my blog “stories.” Perhaps, however, this recipe might tempt her into her kitchen, a bag of split peas in hand.

If you’re wondering why I’d be crazy enough to include the words, “…Even I Liked It” in the title of a foodblog post, I’d be willing to admit it doesn’t exactly sound like an invitation to try this recipe. Not until you realize – as I am now telling you – that I never liked pea soup. So for me to say Even I Liked It is a big deal.

"Memory's Garden (Losing Ground)" Artist Trading Card by MariLyn; original photo of Mom by Kristen Day

Granted, I did not have a lot of exposure to pea soup, with or without ham, growing up. Mom didn’t make it, nor did she buy it in cans (if it was even available canned in the 50s and 60s at all?). In fact, thinking back I don’t believe any “from scratch” soups were made in our house other than the beef-vegetable soup Dad made on occasion (which was also his clam chowder, minus the clams, plus the beef). I don’t think our chicken soup was ever created from real foods; it always seemed to come in care of the Campbell Soup Company, mushy noodles and all.

My first taste of pea soup (and I believe it included ham) was delivered to our house in the late 80s, after I’d had surgery and was on leave from work for six weeks. A co-worker (she was a parole officer who worked down the hall, not in Counsel’s Office with me), who happened to live only a few blocks away from us, was kind enough to make a batch of the stuff and drive it over to our home. This was when I learned that my husband l-o-v-e-s split pea soup. Slurping my first taste, I decided it was okay but nothing I’d indulge in often. I ate a small bowl and left the rest for Bill to finish off over the next couple of days. I much preferred the raisin bran muffins Jean (the P.O.) had gifted us with a few days beforehand, indicating that the fiber was much needed “to get the system going again” after the surgery, a tactful suggestion!

Late last year (sometime in December?), I sighted a small bag of split peas in a local supermarket and – for some unfathomable reason – decided it might be nice to try making split pea soup as a nice surprise for Bill. Perhaps it was one of Bob’s Red Mill products, a favorite source of flours and grains for me. I don’t remember. Whatever the product name, I noticed an easy-sounding recipe on the back of the package so I threw the bag into my shopping cart, carried it home with the rest of the groceries and stored it in a cabinet on the shelf partially designated for soups and broths – where it sat for at least a couple of months. That’s the nice thing about dried grains: they can do that, wait for the cook to get re-inspired… or to simply realize they have to DO something with that bag of beans because otherwise it will keep making her feel guilty that she spent that money and it’s still freakin’ sitting there, staring at her every time she opens the cabinet!

I’m afraid the latter explanation was my kick-in-the-butt to do something with those split peas. That, plus the fact that I’d finally baked the small ham up I’d bought a few weeks earlier, serving it with sauerkraut (with caraway seeds and brown sugar), buttered carrots and baked potato – and the leftover ham was now calling to me too (geez, food ganging up on me – a losing battle?). What to do with it, other than slipping bits of ham into an omelet? That bag of green split peas stared out at me as I opened the cabinet, and that was that.

I glanced at the recipe on the back of the bag, noted what I liked about it, and then headed straight to my best soup reference (already mentioned a few times on this blog), A Celebration of Soups by Robert Ackart. Sure enough, with several adjustments (including deleting a ham bone from the list of ingredients), I created the soup pictured in this post, recipe below. Topped with a bit of sour cream and a few large croutons, I discovered that I could, in fact, love split pea soup with ham. So much so that I enjoyed leftovers the next day even more.

Before gifting readers with the recipe, how about some witchy/goddessy info about its main ingredient? Flecked, perhaps, with a bit of nutrition. And even a bit of food history. (You can skip this part if it bores you, or if you really want the basics of making the soup, like now!)

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (2003 edition, Llewellyn Publications) lists the “Energies” of the pea as Love. Cunningham states that peas have always been sacred to the Mother Goddess and that, during the Inquisition, peas were thought to be standard food of “Witches.” (Let’s get this straight: those who were hung, drowned or burned at the stake as witches during The Burning Times, i.e., especially Middle Ages, were generally women who followed the old ways of healing and may have owned their own property, both of which were frowned upon by the increasingly powerful and patriarchal Church; and they were often accused out of fear, ignorance, greed or just plain envy.) Under “Magical Uses,” Cunningham suggests cooking peas with basil, coriander, dill or marjoram – and visualizing the dish as “a powerful love attractant” while doing so. Then, of course, you must eat them.

Something was missing from the above, I thought, as I researched the “magical” aspects of peas. They’re green, so surely there must be some association with money, abundance. After all, the roots of magic are partly in visualizing what you wish for, and color plays a huge part in that. I started Googling and found “Peas” listed in an “Herb Grimoire” at a site called The Magickal Cat and, yup, under the “Magickal Uses” column it reads, “Money and Love.” I imagine one might even burn a green candle while supping on pea soup, just to strengthen the desire and plea for money or abundance (in all areas, perhaps, such as creativity, friendships, etc.). Keep in mind, however, that one never asks for something from the Universe at the expense of someone else’s safety or happiness. “Whatsoever you send out into the Universe returns to you threefold.” (Just as Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”) Send out evil, expect it to return to you in a really unhealthy dose. (I know this is hard to believe when you see the bad guys screwing up the world, or your little section of it, but I continue to hope it’s true.)

My next stop on the pea-research tour was another book on my shelf: 100 Best Health Foods: The Ultimate Superfoods for Healthy Living Including 100 Nutritious Recipes (Love Food, an imprint of Paragon Books Ltd, 2009). I’m not so naïve as to be unaware that the “Top 100” (or “Top 50” or “Top AnyNumber”) of healthiest foods changes as more scientific research uncovers evidence of different nutrients and what they do for the body when ingested. In fact, it’s being found that whether or not you cook them, and what you eat along with them, also affects its impact on your health. But this book specifically lists nutrients and their potential effects upon this poor l’il ol’ bod of mine – so I like it. Here’s a little of what it has to offer re Peas, which incidentally is listed as #34 amongst the 100:

  • Very high in both lutein and zeaxanthin content, which translates to helping protect eyes against macular degeneration
  • Rich source of Vitamin C, fiber, and protein, also helpful for the eyes
  • Rich in carotenes (benefits the eyes as well)
  • B Vitamins helpful toward protection against osteoporosis and possibly against strokes
  • For vegetarians, helpful as a source of protein (which, for meat-eaters, would be easily acquired through meat and poultry consumption)
  • Fiber also helps to lower “bad” cholesterol and might help prevent heart disease
  • Frozen peas often contain more Vitamin C and other nutrients than fresh peas (even those still in their pods) because they’re usually frozen within hours of harvesting, whereas the “fresh” ones could be several days old.

The page containing the above info, I noticed, is opposite one headed “Chilled Pea Soup.” I’m wondering what the chances are that, since I’ve acquired a taste for the hot dish, ingredients listed on that page might find its way into my “cauldron” on some over-warm summer day.

One last shot before the recipe:

When I trekked upstairs to the kitchen to grab a book to check out health benefits of peas, I pulled down The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by Dinah Bucholz (Adams Media, 2010). Witchy-wizardy enough to merit a glance, I figured. No mention of “Peas” in the index but then there was “Pease Pudding,” supposedly inspired by a passage out of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Could it be… Yes! Made with either yellow or green split peas!

Bill happened to be coming through the door from the garage as I walked downstairs with the book and I couldn’t resist asking him, “Do you remember the nursery rhyme that went, Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot nine days old?” Of course, he did. “Well,” I continued, “ it says in here [pointing to the cover of the book] that the rhyme “was inspired by pease pudding (which used to be called pease pottage in the Middle Ages) or pease porridge.” It’s an old dish that’s still consumed today, alongside bacon or sausages (possibly roast beef or chicken too). Bill said he wouldn’t mind trying it someday, although I have a feeling that the promise of the addition of bacon or sausages to the meal made the menu item sound infinitely more appealing to him!

SPLIT PEA AND HAM SOUP, MARILYN’S VERSION
Yield: 12-14 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups split green peas
  • 1 medium-size carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large rib celery, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 8 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or water (broth is my preference)
  • a “dash” of Worcestershire sauce (no more than 1 teaspoon)
  • leftover ham, chopped – 1 cup, more or less (some to be added before pureeing, bulk added afterward)
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • fresh-ground pepper
  • milk or light cream (latter is my preference), to taste (usually not more than a few tablespoonsful)
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt for topping (optional)
  • croutons for topping (optional)

Process

  1. In the bottom of a soup kettle, sauté: carrot, celery and onion – for about 2 minutes, salting lightly. Add a dash of pepper too, if you like.
  2. Add split peas, parsley, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, broth (or water, if using that – or a combo of broth and water), and the “dash” of Worcestershire sauce.
  3. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture (covered) until the peas are tender.
  4. About 30 minutes before the peas are expected to become tender, heat up the ham a bit, to avoid adding cold meat to the soup mix. (I stir-fried mine in a minimal amount of oil, to give it a bit of added flavor.)
  5. When the peas are tender, remove the bay leaves from the soup kettle.
  6. Add a small portion of the ham, reserving the largest portion to add to the kettle after the mixture has been puréed.
  7. With an immersion blender (or food processor or blender), purée the soup mixture to your desired texture (I like mine a little lumpy).
  8. Stir in the reserved portion of chopped ham.
  9. Add light cream (or milk, if you prefer – or leave it without dairy, if you like it that way) and heat for a couple minutes more.
  10. Adjust seasonings (more salt? pepper?).
  11. Serve with a dab of sour cream or Greek yogurt, topped with your favorite croutons (both of which are optional).

And here is where I offer my apology: given its “witchy” energies, shouldn’t I have posted this a couple of days ago, on Valentine’s Day? Well, I’m sending this out with Love anyway – may all of you always receive it in abundance!

"Magic Happens," Artist Trading Card by MariLyn

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.