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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Soups, on July 18th, 2017.

creamofcucumbersoup_larger

It’s summer. It’s hot. Who wants to COOK in a warm afternoon kitchen?

Back in 2008 I posted this recipe, and it’s as much a winner of a recipe now as it was then. It’s a recipe from my friend Jackie P, and I’ve made it numerous times over the years. It’s easy to make – do it in the morning when it’s cooler, chill it down and serve it for lunch, or before dinner. I made a big batch of it last week, and am still enjoying it, down to the last little bit of it. I took new photos (gee, my photography had a long way to go when I was first a blogger) so have inserted a new one into that old post. If you want to make it less caloric, substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream. It tastes just as wonderful.

The original post is HERE. Just go there and make this soup, okay? I garnished the soup with toasted sliced almonds because I didn’t have any fresh dill (I used dried dill to flavor the soup too) and I really liked the crunch of the almonds to give some texture to the soup. It makes a lovely first course, or for me, it WAS my lunch a couple of days last week. Altogether refreshing.

Posted in Soups, on June 30th, 2017.

zucchini_mint_soup

Really subtle, a little bit chunky, but altogether refreshing summer soup. Can also be served hot.

When Tarla Fallgatter made this soup, I wasn’t expecting to like it so much. Afterwards, I thought maybe I was just overly hungry at the class when she made this, but I liked it so much, I made it a week later to SEE if it really did tick all my boxes as much as I thought it did. Yes. I wrote a note on the recipe – “almost tastes like there’s cheese in it, but no.” It must be the leeks, we decided, that gave the soup such a lovely consistency and flavor. I do love leeks, and they provide an abundance of flavor to things. My favorite leeks come from Trader Joe’s, because they’re already trimmed and mostly clean too, 2 to a pack. When I made this, I made a double batch (so about 12 leeks) and 6 pounds of zucchini. I wanted to have leftovers to freeze.

The leeks do have to be softened in butter for awhile, and the zucchini is cooked not fully soft, then you add the broth and simmer for about 20 minutes. The soup is pureed in a blender, but don’t overdo it – don’t make it smooth – I liked the little bit of texture to it, but that’s your choice. After pureeing, add the little bit of cream and mint. Serve hot/warm or chill and garnish with a mint leaf on top.

If you’re lucky enough to be growing zucchini, do save this recipe to make when you have an abundance of them.

What’s GOOD: really liked this soup – it’s fairly healthy (just a bit of cream) and it can be served hot, warm or cold. How versatile is THAT? Loved the little bit of texture from not pureeing it completely. Lots of depth of flavor, most likely from the leeks. Freezes well. It’s not an “over the top” type, but it’s delicious and relatively filling.

What’s NOT: not a single thing.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chilled Zucchini-Mint Soup

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 cups leeks — use both white and green part (about 6 leeks)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth — or vegetable broth
3 pounds zucchini — chopped (about 8 cups)
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh mint — (packed) minced
whole mint leaves for garnish

1. Melt butter in a large saute pan, then add leeks and saute until soft, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and saute until beginning to soften, about 5 more minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until zucchini is tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth, but still a bit of texture remaining. Return puree to same pot, add cream and the chopped mint. Allow to cool, cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours, and up to 24 hours.
3. Taste soup and add more broth if it’s too thick. Season with salt and/or pepper to taste. Garnish with mint leaves.
Per Serving: 152 Calories; 10g Fat (47.4% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 51mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on June 18th, 2017.

carrot_soup_tarragon_orange

A simple soup. Mostly carrots, but the flavors are rich and complex with the addition of tarragon and orange.

Every few months I have to do a bunch of administrative offloading of all the photos I take for the recipes I post. They’re on my kitchen computer, and need to put them into storage.  They’re all divided up by recipe title, but I have a hard time finding things if the file directory gets over about 50-60, so I transfer them to a CD. I was about to do this, this morning, but I looked at this carrot soup and thought, hmmm, I don’t remember posting this. Sure enough, I hadn’t. It’s from a cooking class I took last fall. Maybe it was in December – –  can’t recall. But this soup is easy and delicious. It’s starting to be NOT soup weather, so I’d best get this posted and offload it!

Anyway, the soup is super easy to make and just requires a blender at the end, then you add in a bit of orange juice (enough that you can taste the orangey flavor), a jot of brandy and the fresh tarragon. Do use orange carrots, not the multicolored ones, as I think the color of the soup might be off-putting to some. The sweeter and carrots the better.

What’s GOOD: the soup is very easy to make – just requires some orange juice and fresh tarragon that you might not have in your kitchen. I don’t drink OJ anymore, but I always have a can of frozen juice in the freezer, so I can scoop out a bit of that slush to make a cup of orange juice for recipes. Soup is really tasty. Different because of the orange. And I liked the tarragon at the end. Would freeze really well.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. If you don’t like tarragon, use fresh thyme instead.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Carrot Soup with Tarragon and Orange

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, chef, 2016
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds carrots — peeled, sliced
1 1/2 cups onion — chopped
6 cups chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brandy — optional
4 teaspoons fresh tarragon — finely minced
Fresh tarragon sprigs for garnish

1. Melt butter in large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add carrots and onion and saute until onion is soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, uncover and simmer until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before proceeding.
2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, filling half way only. Pour into another container and continue to puree until all the soup is smooth. Pour soup back into the soup pot; add orange juice, brandy and the chopped tarragon. May be made a day ahead to this point and refrigerated. Can be frozen at this point.
3. Simmer soup for 5 minutes for flavors to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into bowls and serve with tarragon sprigs on top.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 4g Fat (30.0% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 609mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on January 22nd, 2017.

roasted_tom_soup_pesto

Can’t quite believe I’m posting yet another tomato soup recipe. But yes, I am, and is it ever good. And contains no cream or dairy at all, but you’d never know it.

One of my favorite recipes is a tomato soup I learned at a cooking class about 10-12 years ago. It’s on my list of FAVS, called Cream of Tomato Soup. Just typing those words makes my mouth water. Guess I need to make some soon. But maybe I’ll make THIS one instead, as it was almost as tasty and has no cream in it but is loaded with flavor.

This one came from a cooking class with a French chef, and it’s one of her favorites, made with roasted Roma tomatoes. The day of this particular class, the chef, Caroline, couldn’t find good looking Romas, so she used on-the-vine tomatoes instead, and they were delicious. This time of year it’s hard to find really red-ripe tomatoes, so Caroline was disappointed in the orange-y color of the soup – she blamed it on the under ripe color of the tomatoes. The quartered tomatoes and a red bell pepper are tossed with olive oil and roasted 45 minutes. Meanwhile, you cook a yellow onion in EVOO and add the roasted tomato mixture to it, along with some chicken (or vegetable) stock. It’s pureed in the blender and reheated. If you like a really silky consistency, put the soup through a strainer or a Chinois to remove all the pulp and other stuff – I probably wouldn’t bother as I like texture.

If you have ready-made pesto, use it – chef Caroline diluted some store-bought with just a tiny bit of water so it would drizzle. Done. Easy. She served the soup with little French bread croutons with melted goat cheese on top – it was just an easy accompaniment to the soup to help round out the course.

What’s GOOD: how delicious the soup is – it must be the roasting that gives it so much flavor – it’s easy to make. Just be sure to buy good tomatoes.

What’s NOT: not a thing – a delicious soup – but if you can’t find good tomatoes, skip making this until you can.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Tomato Soup with Pesto Coulis

Recipe By: Caroline Cazaumayou, Chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 6

3 pounds Roma tomatoes — (ripe) stemmed, quartered
1 whole red bell pepper — stemmed, seeded, cut in 1″ squares
5 large garlic cloves — peeled, smashed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Ground black pepper — to taste
1/4 cup EVOO — (for tomatoes)
2 tablespoons EVOO — (for onion)
1 large sweet onion — peeled, chopped
2 cups chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
PESTO COULIS: (optional)
1 tablespoon pesto sauce — store bought is fine
1 tablespoon water — or more if needed

NOTE: If Roma tomatoes aren’t nicely red and ripe, substitute on-the-vine tomatoes.
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On the parchment, toss the tomatoes, bell pepper and garlic, with salt, pepper and the larger quantity of olive oil.
3. In a large saucepan, cook the onion in the smaller quantity of olive oil over medium heat until golden brown. Add the roasted tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Cool slightly, then puree soup in a blender, in batches so it doesn’t overflow. Press through a sieve if you’d prefer it that way. Adjust seasonings.
5. In a small bowl combine the pesto and water – if the pesto is particularly thick, it may need more water to make it somewhat runny. Drizzle on top of the hot soup.
OPTIONAL: toast baguette slices lightly brushed with olive oil, then top with a little spread of soft goat cheese. Bake or broil just until golden and serve alongside the soup.
Per Serving: 206 Calories; 16g Fat (65.7% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 627mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, Vegetarian, on December 1st, 2016.

tomato_soup_w_lentils_garbanzos

Have you learned to trust me when I tell you that you need to make this? It’s a tomato soup first and foremost, but it’s quite complex with other flavors. And vegetarian too. Even vegan if you didn’t serve the yogurt on top.

Surely, in my recipe software, in my to-try file, I must have 10 lentil soups waiting for me to try. You’d think there couldn’t be another way to invent a lentil soup, for goodness’ sake. This soup, however, is more a tomato one with lentils as the sideline, the accent, the texture perhaps. There’s only 1/3 cup of lentils in the soup, and if you were to puree this completely, you’d not even know they were there.

And I might have passed this one by had I read it. But that would have been a mistake. As it was, I attended a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter, and she made this soup for us. First she made the roasted/toasted chickpeas (garbanzo beans). And as she explained, they’re a bit tedious to make. Enough tedious – I’ve made them before – that when I heard that you

Update:

I bought already toasted garbanzo beans at a local Middle Eastern Market. Taste was awful, so I’ll go back to making my own when they’re needed.

can buy toasted chickpeas at Middle Eastern markets. So I did – you’ll find them in the nuts and seeds department. I won’t have to go through the nuisance of taking the skins off the canned beans, drying them, then seasoning and oiling them, then baking them for awhile.

Actually, the soup could be served without the chickpea garnish altogether. The soup itself is plenty good all by itself. AND, you wouldn’t have to serve the yogurt on it, either, if that didn’t appeal. Maybe some croutons? Or sour cream if that’s more your choice than yogurt. But whatever garnish, you really should make the soup. The poblano (pasilla) chile adds a lovely fragrance and flavor to the soup. I love poblano chiles. I even drove to a Mexican grocery store a week or so ago hoping that they would have canned poblano chiles. No. In this soup, though, you don’t have to roast the chile to remove the skins – it’s the chile flavor you’re looking for and the skins will disappear. The soup is also flavored with fresh ginger, garlic, ground coriander and ground cumin. Middle Eastern flavors, or maybe Egyptian, or Indian. Any and all of the above.

What’s GOOD: the flavor of the soup is what hooked me. The cumin and ground coriander are subtle, but there. The ginger too. The poblano chile is an undercurrent in the flavor profile too. Altogether delicious. It should freeze well, too. Try to find red lentils if you can so the soup doesn’t have a brown color. The toasted garbanzo beans – well, try to find them at a Middle Eastern market. They are so delicious (but a lot of work to make them yourself). The soup comes together in short order, too – about 45 minutes, I’d guess, not including the time to make the toasted chickpeas. Double it and freeze some.

What’s NOT: well, as I mentioned, toasting chickpeas isn’t a favorite pastime of mine – if you can find them in a Middle Eastern grocery store, go for it. You can serve the soup without them anyway.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Tomato and Lentil Soup with Roasted Chickpeas

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking class, Sept 2016
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons coconut oil — or canola oil, or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger — finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 small poblano chile — coarsely chopped (or a serrano)
28 ounces canned tomatoes — chopped, with juices
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth — or vegetable broth
1/3 cup red lentils — rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or fat-free, for garnish
ROASTED CHICKPEAS:
15 ounces chickpeas, canned — drained, rinsed and PEELED, (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon spices — ground cumin, sumac, ground coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil — (might need more)

1. Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, and chile, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 45 seconds.
2. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the broth, and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.
3. Purée about half of the soup mixture in a blender smooth. Pour back into soup pot. You may also puree all the soup (that’s what was in the original recipe.) Thin with a little water if you like. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, and garnish with the roasted chickpeas, if using.
4. ROASTED CHICKPEAS: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425°F. Place chickpeas on a flat pan and gently rub them and pick off the skins, being careful not to bruise and damage the bean itself as you’re doing it. Repeat for all the beans. If you don’t remove the skins, the beans won’t get crispy.
5. Place chickpeas on a paper-towel lined baking sheet and let them air dry for at least 30 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with oil and seasonings. Spread on the same baking sheet (without paper towel) and roast, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until slightly darkened and crisp on the outside, about 20-30 minutes. If the look dry, remove and drizzle more olive oil over them and return to oven. If necessary, reduce heat by 25° and continue roasting until they are crisp. Season with additional kosher salt, if desired.
Per Serving: 409 Calories; 19g Fat (38.8% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 886mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on November 9th, 2016.

watercress_soup1

Are you tired of my stories? Seems like there always IS one to go along with most of my recipes. This soup is no exception.

The date was probably the early 1990s. My DH (Dear Husband), Dave, and I had been to England (we loved to travel the narrow roads of the countryside – we went there about 8 times and did just that). Once home I was making an effort to prepare more soups – because when we’d stayed with our good friends, Pamela and Jimmy, Pam had served a cold soup course for one of our prodigious meals we had there.

Not that I was planning to serve a soup course with our meals – usually that was just too much food – but on that trip we’d enjoyed soups in many places. And I had vowed to make more. Pamela had served us a cold soup (a cold green pea soup that’s already here on my blog) and my aim was to find some more cold soups to try. I made several over the period of a few weeks, but wasn’t enamored with any of them, particularly. I’d sent a thank you letter to her/them, and in it I asked for more recipes. This was back in the days when all we could do was snail mail, over the pond.

If you haven’t been reading my blog for very long, or you could have forgotten, but these friends, Pamela and Jimmy – we met them in a pub in Ilminster, Somerset, on our very first trip to England together (1981). I’ve told the story before, relating how Pamela introduced me to the art and precision of making a British pot of tea. Each time we visited, Pamela outdid herself preparing a sumptuous meal or two. Often we took them out for a very nice dinner somewhere too. Pamela was a professional cook. She didn’t go to culinary school, but after some early years in the RAF women’s corp, she stayed home to raise hers and Jimmy’s children, and then eventually took a job working for a young, but wealthy couple who owned a very large and lovely manor house some miles away. Pamela cooked for them 2-4 days a week, preparing meals they could reheat on other nights when she wasn’t there. She did all the cooking when they entertained, and especially when they had hunting parties. She regaled us with interesting stories about all of that. One year Dave and I got a tour of the manor house when the owners were away (on the Continent, you see). It was pretty gorgeous, including the Laura Ashley-decorated bedrooms. At the time, Laura Ashley was just the “in” thing, and this house had it in spades. The home was filled with incredible artwork spanning many generations of the family. And it had a dining room table that would seat easily about 24 with no problem whatsoever.

Anyway, back to my story, I’d sent the note to Pamela about more recipes for cold soups. Some months went by, and then I got a lovely envelope chock full longhand recipes, not written in a recipe format. I think she sent me about five, and 3 of them were for a cold watercress soup. Whatever was going on in my life right then, I set the pages aside and they were eventually filed in my pocket folder for SOUPS. And I promptly forgot about them. How rude of me!!

It’s now 20+ years later, and as I mentioned lately, I’ve been working on weeding through all of my old recipe clippings, etc. I’m done with the project now – thank goodness – it was a huge job. I threw out about 95% of them. Out went all the cheesecake recipes (it’s not at the top of my list; it was Dave’s favorite – he probably shed a tear as I tossed them in the trash – but hey, he’s in heaven and enjoying cheesecake every day). Out went nearly all the beet recipes – too much trouble. Out went most of the labor intensive recipes I used to think would be fun. And when I got to the SOUPS folder, there were Pam’s recipes. Oh my goodness. Pam and Jimmy are both gone now, so I can’t call to tell her that I really did appreciate her sending me the recipe, oh so long ago.

watercress_bunchSo here I am, making the soup that Pamela designated as her “favorite” watercress soup. She didn’t say why it was her favorite one – maybe because of the texture – silky – or because it was good either hot or cold. I bought good, fat bunches of watercress – I will only buy the real, full-grown stuff – not the ones that are very young leaves with a root ball. The flavors haven’t developed at all in that variety. One of my local markets almost always has watercress.

First I sweated some leeks and onion, then added one potato, chicken broth (or you could use vegetable broth), the watercress tops (not the thick stems) and cooked with a lid on, until the potatoes were tender. I added milk and half and half although the recipe indicated  using milk alone. Salt and pepper were added and I whizzed this up in my Vitamix blender, which gave it the smoothest, silky texture. I couldn’t wait to dig my spoon into it so I had a small bowl of it for lunch. Thank you, Pamela, for this old recipe.

What’s GOOD: the watercress flavor is subtle. By that I don’t mean that it was unidentifiable. It was watercress soup for sure, and it had the most wonderful texture, which is why I’ve renamed this soup as Silky Watercress Soup. It is similar in consistency to vichyssoise, but not as thick, by a long shot. It’s probably the one potato in it; and probably the power of my Vitamix blender. The soup can be diluted a bit more with milk if desired. It could be a main dish soup (probably to serve 3) or a smaller bowl to serve 6, along with a half sandwich or a salad. Just don’t overpower the delicacy of the soup with a strong flavored side dish. A winner of a recipe, and I’m so grateful I ran across this old recipe. More to come.

What’s NOT: gee, not a thing.

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Silky Watercress Soup

Recipe By: From my English friend, Pamela James
Serving Size: 5

1 1/2 ounces butter
2 large leeks — cleaned, thinly sliced
1 large onion — chopped
8 ounces potato — peeled, diced
2 bunches watercress — about 4-5 cups, chopped
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups milk — or use some half and half
salt and pepper to taste
croutons for garnish

1. Melt butter in large saute pan; add leeks and onions; cook for 5 minutes without browning. Add potato and cook for 3 minutes.
2. Remove larger stalks from the watercress and roughly chop leaves. Add to pan with stock and salt and pepper.
3. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Sieve mixture or puree in a blender until smooth.
5. Stir in milk; heat until it’s just below a simmer. Pour into bowls and garnish with a little swirl of cream and croutons.
6. May be served hot or chilled (chill for several hours).
Per Serving: 208 Calories; 10g Fat (43.5% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 341mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on October 31st, 2016.

sausage_chile_soup2

Is it soup weather? I have a passion for soup, even if it’s the middle of summer. But it’s winter thank goodness!

I don’t love hot soup when it’s hot and muggy, but I’ve been known to eat it anyway. Once the weather turns cooler, though, I’m all over the variety of mixed vegetables to add to a pot full of soup. This time I’d started off reading a recipe for a chicken crockpot soup, but as I added and deleted items, it stopped being an enchilada soup (a misnomer anyway) and became a vegetable soup with some leeks and chiles. And not in the crockpot. And not chicken, but sausage. By the time I started on this soup it was about 3pm, and no time to make it in the crockpot.

Leeks are a given in lots of my soups. They just add a ton of flavor. So then I added a can of red enchilada sauce (it could be green or red), some onion, carrot and celery, cumin for flavor and chili powder for some oomph. A single can of black beans went in (you could easily add more, and a can of white beans too if you/your family like the carbs), some low sodium chicken broth (Penzey’s soup base and water) and a soup was in the making. I let it stew for awhile, lid on, and then I added in about 4 ounces (half of an 8-inch block was what I had languishing in my refrigerator) of cream cheese. If you chop it up in small cubes it will kind of silky-slide or melt into the soup. Use a whisk if it leaves pieces. If you really want the cream cheese to be smooth, remove a cup or two of soup broth and whiz the cream cheese and the broth in a blender, then add it back into the soup. Lastly I added a scant pound of sweet Italian sausage that I just cut up with scissors. Once that was cooked, I added 1/4 cup of heavy cream. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I like a bit of creaminess to my soups. That little 1/4 cup added a lot of smoothness to the soup along with the cream cheese. The type of chili powder I used for this soup (from Penzey’s) added a whole lot of heat – more than I’d planned on, actually, so use your own judgment on how much to add.

sausage_chile_soup1Don’t let the sausage cook in the soup for a long time or it will give up all its flavor to the soup. Instead, just cook it long enough so it’s done, add the cream and you’re ready to eat.

Heat the soup to a simmer, and it’s ready to serve. Meanwhile, prepare some toppings like grated cheese (Jack or Cheddar or Colby, or pepper-Jack), a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt), a lime wedge and some more cilantro to sprinkle on last.

This soup made a bunch – enough for about 8-10 servings, I think, unless you have a football player around. I took out about 4 cups for some friends (2 meals worth of a cup apiece, I hoped), and the husband had 3 servings that first night, so there went my idea of providing them with 2 dinner meals. He loved it. Obviously! I loved it too – had it for a lunch or dinner for several days. Some went into a freezer bag and will keep for another day when I don’t feel like cooking.

What’s GOOD: good, hearty meal. For my appetite, a bit over a cup provided a filling portion, but some may want more. Loved all the vegetables in it, and the chunks of Italian sausage were really nice. You could use turkey Italian sausage too. The toppings make it very colorful and full of more texture. I particularly like to add more fresh cilantro on top when serving. It was even better the day after I made it, FYI.

What’s NOT: really nothing – might require a trip to the grocery store for leeks (I never keep them on hand).

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Sausage and Chile Soup

Recipe By: Adapted from an online recipe
Serving Size: 7

10 ounces red enchilada sauce
3 medium leeks — chopped, rinsed
2/3 cup yellow onion — diced
2/3 cup carrot — peeled, diced
2/3 cup celery — diced
15 ounces black beans — drained, rinsed
4 ounces diced green chiles
10 1/2 ounces canned diced tomatoes
4 teaspoons chili powder — (or less to taste)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3/4 pound Italian sausage — cut in small pieces (or use chicken Italian sausage)
4 ounces cream cheese — softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
Optional toppings: pepper-jack cheese, sour cream, fresh lime wedges, more cilantro, maybe some tortilla chips

1. In a large soup or stock pot pour in the red enchilada sauce, chopped leeks, onion, carrot, celery and drained and rinsed black beans. Add the undrained diced fire-roasted green chiles, canned tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, and chicken broth or stock.
2. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 30-45 minutes.
3. Chop the cream cheese into small cubes and add to the soup, stirring until it’s completely melted and smooth. Use a whisk if necessary (or whiz it up in the blender with some of the soup broth and add back in).
4. Add the raw Italian sausage and allow soup to simmer for about 15 minutes until it’s cooked through. Taste for seasonings and add salt or pepper if needed. Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Serve with desired toppings.
Per Serving: 558 Calories; 25g Fat (40.6% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 80mg Cholesterol; 1115mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on June 5th, 2016.

cheesy_cauliflower_soup

If you’ve never made cauliflower soup, maybe this will entice you to try it. The recipe came from Pioneer Woman, on one of her recent shows. I think she suggested it be served with a toasted cheese sandwich, or maybe that’s what I thought about as I was making it. But no, I didn’t make a sandwich, as much as I would have liked to!

After watching Ree Drummond make this soup, I immediately bought a fresh cauliflower and then something came up and I didn’t end up making the soup that day. Or the next. Or the next. But a week later the cauliflower was still in perfect condition so I made the soup – it makes a LOT – and froze about 5 single portions and still have two containers in my frig to have this coming week.

The soup does dirty-up two pans – one for the soup and one for the cream sauce. I considered just thickening the soup in the big pot with the cauliflower, but there IS a reason you don’t do that – milk doesn’t like to be boiled – it separates. So, you prepare a cream sauce that’s on the thin side, but still it is a thickened base, and it gets poured into the already cooked and pureed soup and at that point the soup is done. You simmer it for just a very few minutes – not enough time for the milk to separate.

cauliflower_cajun_seasoningBacon features in this recipe – chopped up and rendered, then reserved to be sprinkled on top when it’s served. That’s what’s visible, barely, in the middle of the soup bowl in the photo. There’s onion in there too. The cauliflower is chunked up – you don’t have to be meticulous about it – you could cut it up if you’d like, rather than bothering with florets. Most of it gets pureed anyway, so the shape doesn’t really matter here. Cajun seasoning is needed – in fact I think the soup would be a tad bland without it – I used Slap Ya Mama brand. Now I can buy the seasoning at my grocery stores, but back a few years ago it wasn’t available in the West, so my friend Joan bought some when she visited family in Texas. See photo at right.

It may be hard to see, but I liberally sprinkled the seasoning all over the raw cauliflower – you could just as easily add it into the cooking pot – I don’t think it matters. If you don’t have Cajun seasoning, you can use this recipe from the Food Network – it’s a combo of a bunch of herbs and spices. Just don’t make a lot of it unless you plan to use it up – I’ll never use up that can before the flavors are shot – you just use a bit more once the mixture is 6-8 months old. That’s what I did here. I know I used more than 1/2 teaspoon, but use your own judgment. There was some heat in the soup, but not very much – just enough that you knew it was there!

As for the pureeing – Ree likes chunky soup, so she uses an immersion blender, but only whizzes it a little bit so it leaves plenty of texture. I mostly pureed it but left just a little bit of texture. You can also pour it all into a blender – it will take several batches as this makes about 15-16 cups of soup. The cream sauce is made and poured into the simmering soup, then you add the Jack cheese, parsley and sour cream and cook briefly – just enough to heat it through and it’s done. Ready to be scooped into a serving bowl with the bacon, more cheese and parsley added on top. As always, the soup is enhanced if you make it, cool it and chill it overnight. When reheating it, be gentle – don’t let it boil.

What’s GOOD: What can I say about cauliflower soup?  It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it’s delicious. Creamy, and even though it has a bit of half and half in it, it’s not all that unhealthy – 24 grams of fat in an ample serving. I had it for dinner, nothing else with it, just the soup. It was very satisfying and the bacon hits a nice note of texture and saltiness. It’s not overly thick, but it does have some little bit of texture to it. Altogether good soup.

What’s NOT: nothing, really – you do dirty two pans – that’s about the only down side I can think of!

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Cheesy Cauliflower Soup

Recipe By: Ree Drummond, 2016
Serving Size: 10

4 thin slices bacon — cut into small bits
1 white onion — finely diced
1 head cauliflower — broken into pieces or chopped
1/2 teaspoon Cajun spice — or more to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth — (2 quarts)
4 tablespoons butter — (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup sour cream
3 cups Monterey Jack cheese — grated, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley — plus more for serving

1. In a large pot, fry the bacon pieces over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain the bacon on a paper towel and set aside. Pour off the grease and return the pot to the stove.
2. Add the onions to the pot and cook over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower, sprinkle with the Cajun spice and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cook, stirring, until the cauliflower starts turning golden brown, another 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
3. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture slightly, or all the way if you prefer. (Or use a regular blender; just don’t fill too full.)
4. In a separate saucepan or skillet, melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to form a paste. Pour in the milk, then continue cooking until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the half-and-half.
5. Pour the white sauce into the soup. Turn the heat to medium high and bring back to a simmer for just 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, stirring in the cheese and sour cream until the cheese is fully melted. Stir in the parsley.
6. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with a little extra cheese, a sprinkle of bacon and a sprinkle of parsley.
Per Serving: 298 Calories; 24g Fat (63.8% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 63mg Cholesterol; 352mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, Vegetarian, on April 6th, 2016.

red_lentil_mex_stew

Ever get a craving for lentils? I sure do! And this recipe, very close to the one at Kalyn’s Kitchen, is such an easy soup (or stew) to make. It comes together in about 50 minutes, with only a few of those minutes where you’re actively working on it.

When I first started reading blogs way back in about 2005, Kalyn’s Kitchen was one of the first I found. I don’t follow the South Beach diet plan she advocates, but since my hubby, my DH, was a type 1 diabetic, lots of her recipes were good ones for him since most of them are low carb. My DH and I visited with Kalyn some years ago when we were on a trip in Utah and we got to see her photo studio in her house, and her prolific garden. We had a lovely visit. Anyway, I still follow Kalyn’s blog, and when this recipe popped up, I knew I’d be making it. I started this blog in 2007, much as a result of reading Kalyn’s, as well as others.

Kalyn’s recipe is a vegetarian one, with the only protein coming from the lentils themselves. I made this per her recipe, but I added in some carnitas (car-NEE-tas, a Mexican style pork shoulder slow simmered until it’s tender). I had about half a pound of carnitas on hand that needed to be used. And carnitas are Mexican, so I figured it would be a natural pairing. I’ve merely included the meat in the recipe below as an option. As I was chopping celery and onions I didn’t measure – I used a big onion and likely double the amount of celery – it made it a bit more chunky. And, I probably used a bit more spices (turmeric, cumin and chile powder). It certainly could be made with regular brown lentils, but the red ones make for a very pretty bowl. The spices are right down my alley. I added in some harissa (instead of the green Tabasco she suggested) which gave this stew a punch of heat. I squirted on some sour cream and sprinkled heavily with cilantro and it was ready to eat. This recipe doesn’t make a really huge quantity (good thing since I’m a family of one) so it’s now in a heavy-duty plastic Ziploc bag in my refrigerator.

What’s GOOD: this is so “comfort food” for me. Love the texture and the Mexican (spice) flavors. You can make it purely vegetarian if you prefer, or add in carnitas if that floats your boat. Even chicken would be fine too. Do use the toppings (sour cream and cilantro) as that adds a big boost of flavor.

What’s NOT: nary a thing – this is a very easy soup/stew to make.

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Mexican Red Lentil Stew with Lime and Cilantro

Recipe By: Adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 5

1 cup red lentils — or regular brown
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion — finely chopped
1 1/2 cups celery — chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder
14 1/2 ounces diced tomatoes — canned, including juice
2 cups carnitas — (optional) shredded
2 cups vegetable broth — or chicken broth
1 teaspoon green Tabasco sauce — (or other hot sauce of your choice. Green Tabasco is fairly mild, so you may want less if you use a stronger hot sauce.)
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup lime juice — (2-3 limes or less if you’re not that into lime) and do use fresh limes
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro — (1/2 to 1)
Optional: cut limes and sour cream or vegan sour cream substitute for serving the soup

1. Place red lentils in a small pot, rinse and drain if needed, then add water. Bring to a boil, turn off heat and cover. Let lentils sit in the hot water 30 minutes.
2. While lentils are steeping in the water, finely chop onions and celery and mince garlic. Heat olive oil in heavy soup pot, add onion and celery and saute for 3-4 minutes, just long enough that vegetables are starting to soften. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more. Add ground turmeric, ground cumin, and chile powder, stir, and cook 1-2 minutes more.
3. Add diced roasted tomatoes, vegetable broth, and hot sauce. Add lentils after they have soaked for 30 minutes (including any water in the pot with them), then let soup simmer for 15-25 minutes (keep checking so the lentils don’t dissolve – don’t overcook).
4. While soup cooks, wash, dry and finely chop 1/2 – 1 cup fresh cilantro and squeeze limes to get enough fresh lime juice. When the lentils are softened as much as you’d like, stir in chopped cilantro and lime juice and cook 5 minutes more. Add in cooked carnitas, if you’re using that ingredient. Add more water if the mixture simmers enough that it evaporates all the water.
5. Serve hot, with additional cut limes to squeeze into the soup. Can top with sour cream or vegan substitute if desired.
Per Serving: 262 Calories; 5g Fat (17.3% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 15g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 710mg Sodium.

Posted in Soups, on March 19th, 2016.

 

mex_corn_soup_chix_baconTalk about delicious! Comfort food for a cold winter’s night. A one-dish meal, and it’s relatively easy to make, too.

Another winner of a recipe from a Phillis Carey cooking class I took in January. Over the years I can’t count how many soups she’s taught me to make. This one is just full of flavor, and quite easy to make. You could substitute tortilla chips (packaged) if you didn’t want to make the strips. You start with frozen corn (but defrosted) and add in fresh tomatoes, chicken broth, oregano, and some bacon. Then it has onion, Serrano chiles, garlic, black beans and shredded chicken. Phillis suggested we use chicken from a Costco prepared rotisserie chicken – or some left over chicken or turkey. The soup is garnished with some crème fraiche (or Crema Agria if you have access to Mexican markets), cilantro, some crumbled Cotija cheese (or use cheddar) and lastly, it’s topped with some strips of tortillas you’ve fried in a bit of oil.

The soup will come together in a little over half an hour, providing you have all the ingredients ready, chicken chopped or shredded, onion chopped, etc. This is a complete meal in one pot (except for the fried tortilla strips). This soup IS a carb-centric one – with corn being the main ingredient after chicken broth, but it’s very filling. The tortilla strips add great texture and crunch, and the bacon adds a lot of flavor, as it always does!

What’s GOOD: all the flavors and textures make for a filling and toothsome bowl of soup. Loved this recipe – very satisfying. Am sure you’ll agree if you make it. I did like the home made tortilla strips – to me they’re worth buying the raw tortillas to make your own, but if you’re pressed for time, use packaged chips, broken up in your palms.

What’s NOT: nothing I can think of. A great recipe.

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Mexican Corn Soup with Chicken, Bacon & Tortilla Strips

Recipe By: Phillis Carey class, 1/2016
Serving Size: 6

3 cups frozen corn — thawed, divided use
2 medium tomatoes — seeded, roughly chopped (or 1/2 can of diced tomatoes)
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 slices thick-sliced bacon — diced
1 cup onion — chopped
1 medium jalapeno chile pepper — seeds removed, diced small
2 cloves garlic — minced
15 ounces canned black beans — drained, rinsed
3 cups shredded chicken Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup creme fraiche — or Crema Agria (Mexican style cream) or heavy cream
3 tablespoons cilantro — chopped
1/2 cup Cotija cheese — crumbled (you can substitute cheddar)
4 whole corn tortillas — cut into thin strips and fried briefly in oil until crispy

1. In a blender add half of the defrosted corn, all the tomatoes, oregano and a couple of cups of chicken broth. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a 4-5 quart pot, cook the bacon until crisp (about 10 minutes), stirring often. Remove with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. To the pan add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and tender. Add chile pepper and garlic and stir for about a minute.
3. Add the tomato-corn puree to the pot with the remaining chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and add remaining whole corn. Simmer over medium-low heat until thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in the canned beans and chicken and continue simmering for 3-5 minutes to warm the beans and the chicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the creme fraiche and half the cilantro.
4. Serve soup garnished with bacon, remaining cilantro, cheese and tortilla strips.
Per Serving: 444 Calories; 17g Fat (31.3% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 85mg Cholesterol; 488mg Sodium.

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