Friday, December 21, 2012

Festival of Soups!

Most people this time of year are making Christmas cookies and I usually would be, too, but this is a different Christmas season for us as my Dad has not been well so we have put many of our traditional Christmas customs on hold while spending much time with him. I decided to spend this very special Winter Solstice day making soup, which I find comforting, relaxing and satisfying. I know you are aware that today--December 21, 2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar and I believe offers a powerful day of new beginnings and hope for mankind and our beautiful earth. This will be my last blog of 2012 and also is the first time I have blogged twice in one week!

This is one of my favorite winter-time hearty, healthy, and filled with rich goodness. I made the ham stock earlier in the week so although I made 3 different soups today, because I had the stocks for two of them made it was fairly easy to put them together.
For the stock:
Take the last of the ham off the bone and cut into small dice. I purposely leave about 2 cups worth of baked ham on the bone when I plan to make pea soup. In a big soup pot, cover the ham bone with water--about 1 quart. Add mirepoix--3 stalks celery cut in chunks, 2 carrots peeled and sliced in thick pieces, 1 onion roughly diced.  Add 1 tsp. of ground bay or 2 whole bay leaves. I am out of whole leaves so used the ground. 1 tsp. dried thyme and 1 tsp. sage. If your ham was fairly salty do not salt, but add liberal amount of black pepper. You can always season with salt when cooking the actual soup if it needs it. Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain and cool stock if you are using at a later date as I did. Cooling also allows you to skim off extra fat from your stock which comes off easily using a spoon to slide off the top of the stock once it has cooled. The stock will now be in a gelatinous/jelly form. Leave some fat as it helps flavor and season the soup.

3 cups split green peas
1 quart ham stock
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/2 tsp. dried bay

Place split peas in a collander. Rinse and clean peas...that means sort through them under running water. Sometimes you will find a stone mixed in with the peas. In a soup pot add peas to ham stock and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer and cook peas for about 1/2 hour. Add carrot, onion, garlic and 1/2 tsp. dried sage and 1/2 tsp. dried bay. Cook for another hour+ until peas are very tender and start to get mushy making the soup thick. Stir soup mashing peas into side of the soup pot. Add 2 cups diced ham and cook another 15 minutes until warmed. This soup freezes well.

I make this soup every year when we're in Ireland. Generally the first night we are there I make a French chicken (recipe is in a previous blog--go to and at top left 'SEARCH FOR RECIPES' and search for French chicken) and from this I make the stock and then finally the potato leek soup. Cooking equipment in Ireland is minimal so when we're in Spiddal the soup does not get blended, but mashed with the back of a spoon. I like it chunky, but today I used a blender to get a velvety creamy texture.

This soup needs adorning...chopped chives or parsley, but it is pouring out today and I did not want to venture into the rain to chop herbs. It still tastes great, but will look better with garnish.
1 quart rich chicken stock
3 leeks, cleaned and sliced, white with only a little green part
6 potatoes, I used Yukon golds, peeled and cut into pieces
1 tsp. salt, 1/4+ tsp.white pepper (I am ALSO out of white pepper so used black. I prefer white for extra heat and the fact that it does not interfere with the color profile of the soup. I know that may sound weird.)
1/2 cup Half and Half

Put all ingredients into the soup pot with the stock. I also had this stock prepared ahead so it made things easy today. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer and cook about 1 hour until potatoes are very tender. Cool completely. Taste and season appropriately. Blend in batches. Add 1/2 cup Half and Half and reheat. I am going to serve this soup with grated extra-sharp cheddar. I think a drizzle of roasted red pepper cut with a little cream cheese and cream might also look and taste great. Let me know what  you come up with!

The third soup I made today was Turkey with vegetables and a blend of brown and wild rice. I used the turkey carcass from the Thanksgiving turkey that I cut off the bone and stuffed and rolled and also used the bones from the roast Thanksgiving turkey. Cooking the soup stock twice gives the stock a richer and deeper flavor and it only takes about another hour.


For the stock:  Mirepoix. This time since I had the tops of leeks from the Potato Leek soup I used them instead of onions, 2 carrots and 3 stalks celery. I also added 1 tsp. dehydrated onion and 1/2 garlic, 1 tsp. each of ground bay, thyme, and sage,1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Cover your chicken carcass with about 1 quart of water. Add all other stock ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Strain and cut meat off the bone. I used about 1 1/2 cups turkey. My husband usually lights into the cooked veg as a snack!

Soup Ingredients:
1 quart turkey stock
3/4 cup brown rice
1/4 cup wild rice*
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 cups turkey meat in pieces
1 tsp. dehydrated onion; 1/2 tsp. dried garlic

Add 1 cup brown/wild rice, herbs and onion/garlic to turkey stock. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer and cook rice for about 1/2 hour. Add diced carrots, celery and cook for another hour. Add 1/2 cup frozen peas and 1 1/2 cups turkey and cook another 15 minutes. This soup freezes well, too.

* I know you probably know that wild rice is not really rice at all, but an aquatic grass related to rice, but more like a cousin than a sister. It grows naturally and in abundance in Minnesota. I was recently in Minneapolis at a board meeting for a nonprofit group I belong to ( and bought some local wild rice from Northland Products, a native American company that hand harvests this wild rice. It is nutty and delicious!

One more soup tip...last week I was making CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP, but realized I didn't have any cream or milk to make the roux. Instead I made the roux

--(Roux:  3 Tbsp. butter melted; add 4 Tbsp. flour; stir constantly over medium heat to cook flour pressing on flour to make a smooth paste; add 1/2 can evaporated milk and keep stirring for another 5 minutes)--

using evaporated milk which gave this soup a fabulous flavor. For stock I used 2 cups of rich chicken stock and 2 cups of mushroom stock made from dried wild mushrooms (porcini, oyster, shitake or whatever you have on hand--I actually buy these dried mushrooms at Big Lots, very inexpensive).

Bring 2 cups water to boil, add several handfuls of dried mushrooms and a little salt. Turn off heat and let sit for a couple hours or more. Strain. I do not use the dried mushrooms in the soup as they are sometimes a little tough, but do use them in other ways. This time, I chopped very finely and mixed with pasta, shrimp, red sauce, to make a mushroomy marina sauce.

Back to the soup...Use a large box of button mushrooms. Clean and slice. Add mushrooms to the chicken/mushroom stock and cook for about 45 minutes. Add the roux. Stir until well belnded. Viola!

Christmas is 4 days away and I want to share my Christmas dinner menu with you. This year it is all about Dad and I am making many of his old-time, old-fashioned favorites.

Little Smokies wrapped in Crescent dough
Deviled Eggs with various toppings
Baked Kielbasa

Baked Ham with Raisin Sauce
Mashed Sweet Potato with Mascarpone/Marshmellow Fluff drizzle
Steamed Peas and Onions
Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits

Rich and Velvety Chocolate Cream Pie

This is from last year's Christmas table--roasted asparagus
with olive oil and sea salt,
eggplant rollatini with home-made simple red sauce and baked ham!
My Mom made the cute pot-holder!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

White Farm B&B-Brockport, NY

Recently my husband and I drove to western NY to pick up our new kitty, Jo Jo. Turns out Spencerport is nearly on the Ohio border so it was a long 8 hour drive for us in rain and heavy fog, but the trip was well worth it on a number of counts. First, may I introduce you to Jo Jo:
He is an adorable Rag Doll and I know will bring us years of pleasure together! We stayed that night at the White Farm B&B in nearby Brockport, NY located in farm country along the Erie Canal.

This turned out to be the next best thing that happened on the trip. Owner Christine Hunt and her husband are delightful hosts and fortunately for us (and Jo Jo!) are cat lovers as they welcomed him into their home, too. The Inn is a beautiful and stately mid-1800's brick farm house. ( One of the most unique features of the inn are hand painted wall murals done by a local, well-known artist. They are unusual, beautiful scenes mainly of birds, including a gorgeous depiction of the now-extinct carrier pigeon; animals; and nature, all in fantastic condition. The inn is brimming with antiques, art, and wonderful stories that Christine is all too happy to share. She is a 'professional food arranger' and it's easy to see she loves to decorate rooms as well as plates. We became fast friends! The breakfast she served was perfect starting with warm, freshly baked Nutty Pumpkin Muffins.       

This came from an old recipe book she shared of locally collected favorites; one of those cookbooks where pages are torn, spattered and stuck together with ingredients; a well-loved recipe cooked for many years. It was submitted by Denise Baumert from Jameson, Missouri. I am not sure of the year. These muffins were moist and flavorful; icing and pumpkin seeds were the perfect finishing touch. Christine also pointed out that if you have several muffins in the same tin, by marking with pumpkin seeds you know which is which...makes sense!

2 eggs
1 cup sugar (Christine said she uses less)
1 cup canned or mashed pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 2/3 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chopped cashews or walnuts (she used walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degreees. In a large bowl mix eggs, sugar, pumpkin, oil and water. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and powder, salt. Stir in pumpkin mix. Mix well. Fold in nuts. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until muffins test done. Do not overbake. Cool on wire rack. Drizzle on icing and place 3 seeds on each muffin.

Next course was a hot fruit compote made with Northern Spy apples (which are 
 great for cooking), golden raisins, dried cranberries and maple syrup; home-made, of course.

Northen Spys are an American heirloom apple and are often referred to as Pie Apples as they hold up well when cooked. Peel and core the apples and cut into big chunks. Mix with a handful of golden raisins and some dried cranberries and big dollop of maple syrup and heat on the stove until warm and the apples get just tender. This was a scrumptuous combination of flavors and textures.

Next she made us some delicately scrambled eggs served with various home-made whole-grain breads. Of course we consumed pots of rich coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. A highly recommendable stay and one we will be sure to visit again. Thanks Christine!

Christine inspired me to re-visit some of my old favorite muffin and quick bread recipes and I found my favorite for a very rich and moist Banana Bread.


1/2 cup butter, melted (yes, that really means 2 sticks!)
1 cup sugar (I used a little less)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sour cream (I used non-fat Greek-style plain Yogurt--my favorite replacement for sour cream)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
2 large bananas-sliced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix well. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt, stir into the butter mixture until smooth. Finally, fold in the sour cream or yogurt, walnuts and banana slices. Spread evenly into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. This is everything banana bread should be---rich, very bananay because banana is added in slices, rather than mashed, and super moist. I guarantee you will LOVE it!
SWITCHING GEARS....The other day I made a topping for spinach (one of my favorite vegetables) that I want to share with you. This topping made the spinach very special. First, lightly steam the spinach until barely wilted. Place steamed spinach in a buttered casserole and top with ground pecans, garlic, parmesan cheese, a few bread crumbs, salt/pepper, and some olive oil. Just put all those ingredients in a mini-max, food processor or blender and blend until well combined. Dot with butter and bake for about 15 minutes at high heat until the topping gets browned. You will not believe how easy and delicious this is!

You know I was recently in Eastern Europe. I was surprised and pleased to see how many menus offered steak tartare served many different ways. Here were two I had, each wonderful.

I love my steak rare and having it raw for me is even better! I have never made steak tartare, but will put it on my list for 2013. Don't these look wonderful? The first was served at a small cafe in Pilsen, Czech Republic--very simple in presentation with the black and paprika peppers being the main accompaniment and the second tartate was served at a lovely outdoor restaurant in Warsaw, Poland--quite a bit fancier in both presentation and adornments, but both equally satisfying! Note, both tartares offer a raw egg; a must when serving tartare.

I am going to conclude today with one more food photo from our Eastern European vacation from a bakery in Krakow, Poland. You can almost smell the butter, almonds and chocolate!

 Thank you again for joining me while I ramble about food and cooking and travel. We are approaching December 21, 2012---the big day---the end of the Mayan calendar. Hope you honor, celebrate and cherish the day with loved ones in whatever way gives you the most pleasure and happiness. I am going to spend the day in thought and thankfulness for all I have in my life. Plus I will probably do some cooking which is the thing that makes me happiest. I think I will make soup since today I made a rich chicken broth. I also have a big ham bone in the freezer ready for a nice pea soup so am ready to go! Let's talk about soup next time. Until then...
Much love and peace...Cindy