Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Potato Leek Soup Is a Winter Comfort


On a gray, dismal, gloomy January day, there's nothing like a warming soup to comfort you from the inside out and brighten your spirits. This potato leek soup fits the bill in spades, or at least in spoonfuls.

One of the best things about winter is that it's soup season. I could eat soup every day, and every kind of soup. Even from a can.

My favorite time in the kitchen is transforming last night's leftovers from dinner into today's lunch.
Sauté diced carrots, celery and onions, add pieces of last night's roast beef, maybe add some cooked rice or pasta, and then broth. Makes me feel so chef-y, or at least like the cook at the family diner preparing the soup du jour.

I hate to waste food. I've made soup out of leftover spaghetti and lasagna. Sometimes these leftovers turn into frittatas, but more often, soups.

Sometimes, though, I really do follow a recipe for soup and get all the ingredients ahead of time, like I did with this potato and leek soup.

Served cold, this soup is called vichyssoise,  but I'm not particularly fond of chilled soupsso I'll just call this warm vichyssoise.

I did make a few adaptations from the recipe that guided me: I used, red potatoes, instead of Yukon gold, dried thyme, not fresh, and I sprinkled bacon on top to appease my very carnivorous Mr. Rosemary.

A stick blender greatly simplifies the process of pureeing a soup like this.  You can, of course, use a blender, transferring the potato and leek mixture in batches, returning to the soup pot each time. Messy.

I also have to caution you about the leeks: They can be a bit of a chore to clean. After chopping off the root end and cutting off the very green tops, you need to separate the leaves to be sure and get any grit that nestles in between the leaves completely out. Leeks have such a nice mellow, oniony flavor; worth the effort.

Other than that, this soup is a piece of cake, easy as pie, a no brainer. With an afghan, a fire, a good book, you've got January licked -- by the spoonful.

Potato and Leek Soup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large leeks, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped (about 5 cups)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
7 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
Chives, finely chopped, for serving

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the leeks and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and wilted, about 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary so as not to brown.
Add the potatoes, broth, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper to pot and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft.

Fish out the thyme sprig and bay leaves, then purée the soup with a hand-held immersion blender until smooth. (or use a standard blender, blending the mixture in batches and returning to the soup pot.) Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If soup is too thin, simmer until thickened. If it's too thick, add water or stock to thin it out. Garnish with fresh herbs if desired.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Coconut Cod Chowder


Every once in a long while, the blue moon variety, I will tackle an unfamiliar recipe that sounds like an interesting mix of unusual flavors and follow it – untypically – to the letter. Even if the recipe said an item was “optional” I was going to include it. No substitutions. No cheating. No shortcuts.

That’s exactly what I did with this Coconut Cod Chowder.

My sister gave me the recipe. “I just loved it,” she said.

And her bridge club loved it. Another sister and her husband loved it. Okay, that’s enough recommendations for me. I’ll try it. Lent is coming and I want new fish dishes.

After scanning the ingredient list, I had to check the pantry and the fridge for anything I might need. Turmeric? Check. Cardamom? Check. Coriander? Check. Coconut milk? Check. Cod? Check.

I needed to get leeks, fresh ginger, baby potatoes, a serrano chile pepper and oyster crackers. Although I did have some ginger in the freezer, I thought getting new ginger a better idea.

I have to admit, it was really, really good. What my sister didn’t tell me was that it tasted even better the next day. Now, you know.

What makes this thick soup so good is the mix of the spices with the coconut milk and the surprise spritz of citrus. It has enough zip, balanced by the creaminess of the milk.  I, too, loved it.

There are just a couple things I’d adjust the next time I make it. I will cut the potatoes into at least quarters and the fish into smaller pieces. And I think I would add just a little more heat, either with another chile pepper or hot pepper flakes. Maybe even another seafood. Clams? Shrimp?

I’m sharing this recipe, originally from Bon Appetit, just as my sister gave it to me. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t use ghee. The Bon Appetit experts allowed that good ol’ butter was just fine.

(Ghee is the foundation of Indian cooking. It is cow's butter that has been heated low and slow, then strained, to remove all the milk solids; essentially, it’s clarified butter.)

I hope you give it a try. It’s worth it. And don’t be tempted to delete the toasted oyster crackers or the lime. Both additions are perfect. If you try it, let me know.

Did Mr. Rosemary like it? He said so.  And the man doesn’t lie.


Coconut Cod Chowder

From Bon Appetit

Makes about 4 servings

1½ lb. skinless, boneless cod or halibut fillets

2½ tsp. kosher salt, divided, plus more

5 Tbsp. ghee or unsalted butter, divided

2 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 (3") piece ginger, peeled, cut into matchsticks

¾ tsp. ground turmeric

¾ tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. ground cardamom

1 serrano chile, thinly sliced

12 oz. baby Yukon Gold or red potatoes, halved

2 (13.5-oz.) cans unsweetened coconut milk

2 celery stalks, thinly sliced, plus leaves for serving (optional)

1½ cups oyster crackers

1 tsp. paprika

2 limes, divided

Season cod all over with 1½ tsp. salt; set aside. Heat 3 Tbsp. ghee in a medium Dutch oven over medium. Cook leeks, garlic, and ginger, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add turmeric, coriander, and cardamom and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chile, potatoes, coconut milk, 1 tsp. salt, and ¾ cup water; bring to a boil (still over medium). Immediately reduce heat so soup is at a bare simmer. Cover, leaving lid slightly askew, and cook until potatoes are barely fork-tender, 10–12 minutes.

Carefully nestle reserved fish into pot, spoon some broth over, and cover, leaving lid slightly askew. Cook at a bare simmer 4 minutes, then stir in celery. Cook until fish is opaque and flakes easily, about 5 minutes. Taste chowder and season with more salt if needed.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 Tbsp. ghee in a small skillet over medium-low. Add crackers and stir well to coat. Cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add paprika; toss to evenly coat.

Slice 1 lime in half and squeeze juice into chowder. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Ladle into bowls, breaking fish into large pieces. Scatter celery leaves over chowder if using and top with crackers. Slice remaining lime into wedges and serve alongside.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Brunch is Served! Spinach and Goat Cheese Frittata

Let's talk about eggs. I love them. You'll always find a couple cartons of eggs in my refrigerator.  (Eggs. And butter. All kinds of cheese. Half and half, too. Probably sour cream.)

With eggs on hand (and all those other things) the possibilities for a meal -- any time of day -- are endless. I heartily agree with the American Egg Board: The humble egg is incredible. 

I don't have to adopt Egg Board's "Wednesday Is Eggsday!" promotion. We eat some form of egg almost every day of the week. On lazy days, Mr. Rosemary and I often have egg sandwiches for dinner. Eggs can magically transform last night's leftovers into a filling frittata. 

And I love this Spinach and Goat Cheese Frittata. It's one frittata that I don't just wing with: Untypically for me, I follow the recipe. And I've made this many times, and any guests we've had (not lately, of course) have loved it, too.

Don't turn up your nose (like Mr. Rosemary does) at the idea of goat cheese. It adds just a little bit of tang that makes you wonder, "What's in this?"

There is no meat in this dish, so to satisfy meat lovers, serve this with sausage links or a slice of ham.
I have mixed ground sausage in this dish, but I like it just as it is. 

I think what makes this dish unique is the addition of cottage cheese. Cottage cheese just melts right into the eggs and makes the frittata nice and fluffy.

Rachael Ray offers another version of this frittata, but it doesn't have tomatoes in it which not only add color but a bit of a juicy surprise.

Food and Wine also offers a version of this, with leeks and pancetta added. May have to try that one.

I can't credit the original source for this recipe: My sister gave it to me and a neighbor had given it to her.

I hope you give it a try. I'd love to know if you love it, too.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Ham and Pinto Bean Soup ~ And Happy New Year!

The ham bone from our cozy, private Christmas dinner – a meal that could have fed maybe ten or so – became the base for this rich and hearty ham and bean soup that filled the house with such a tantalizing aroma as it simmered on the stove all day.

Ham and bean soup is the biggest reason we have a ham at Christmastime. And although it's an annual tradition, I love to make ham and bean soup, any soup, any time of year. 

I confess: I'm a  soup addict.

Actually my favorite ham and bean soup is Senate Bean Soup  Except for the kind of beans, the basic recipes are very similar.

But I had a bit of an overstock of pinto beans because a friend asked me to take several bags off her hands. Her father-in-law, a bean lover, found a deal too good to pass up and bought a whole case. “Please,” she begged. “Take some.”

What was I going to do with all those beans? I made baked beans over the summer a couple times, but even after the pandemic reorganizing of my pantry, I still had three bags to use.

I really didn't know the difference among all the variety of beans. I’m more familiar with the northern beans, or cannellini beans. I know many folks also use navy beans in ham and bean soup. Navy beans are similar to northerns in their flavors; they’re just smaller and slightly plumper.

Turns out that the biggest difference between northerns and pintos is color: The northerns are white and the pinto bean is a pinkish color that turns brown when cooked. 

Great Northern Beans are white. . . . 

 . . .and pinto beans are a reddish pink

The second biggest difference is that the hearty pinto bean takes longer to cook than the more delicate northern. But as long as the house smelled good and the filling soup was a perfect warmer upper on an early January day, that was all right with me.

Predictably, when I told Mr. Rosemary that I was using a slightly different recipe than I usually do for the soup, he rolled his eyes and wanted to know why I was changing from a known good thing. 

When I explained that I had this overload of pinto beans clogging up the pantry, he, as big a fan of non-waste as I am, was pacified. And when he ate the soup, two bowls worth, he was more than satisfied.

I did two different things from the original recipe. I added about ¼ cup of instant mashed potatoes to the soup towards the end of cooking. I like the soup thickened up a little, not to the pudding stage, but just a little thicker. Suit your own tastes for texture.

When I tasted the soup as it simmered, I found it a little bland, so I added a tablespoon a chili powder, not a lot for the size of the pot, but enough to spice up the soup a tad.

I also didn’t do one thing the original recipe called for: I didn’t add a Hungarian noodle-like dumpling called csipetke.  Csipetke is made from a dough of egg, flour and oil that is pinched into little pieces then dropped into the soup about a half-hour before it’s ready to be served.

Mr. Rosemary also doesn't like dumplings -- doesn't matter the kind, size or shape, so I left the csipetke out. But I didn't say a word when he asked for a piece of bread to put in his soup bowl before ladling the soup on top. Wasn't that pretty much a dumpling?!?

Ham and Pinto Bean Soup
Makes about 4 quarts
Adapted from Taste of Home

1 pound dried pinto beans
6 large carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 large onion, chopped
6 celery ribs, sliced
1 large garlic clove
3-1/2 to 4 pounds smoked ham hocks
(or one meaty ham bone)
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 cup instant mashed potatoes

Wash and sort beans. Soak in cold water overnight; drain. In a large 8-qt. soup kettle, combine the beans, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, ham bone, paprika and chili powder. Add enough water to cover ingredients by 2 inches.  Simmer, partly covered, for 2 to 4 hours or until the beans are tender, adding more water as needed. Add the instant potato to thicken, if you want. When beans are tender; remove the bone, remove the meat from the bone and add to the soup.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A New Stuffing for a COVID Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is looking a lot different this year, so why not cook something different? This dish -- called "Savory Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese" when it was first published in Bon Appetit several years ago -- is not really a stuffing in the traditional sense, but it has all the essential credentials -- mushrooms, seasoned bread, onions and celery. It's just baked with more eggs.

Some folks don't like anyone messing around with their traditional Thanksgiving favorites. (I know; I live with one.) But when I first tried this recipe, I was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Rosemary liked it.

It's a little complicated, something I often find with recipes from Bon Appetit. And I have been known to -- often -- just use a recipe as a guide and then put my own twists on it. But I followed this recipe to the letter, and I'm glad I did. The only thing I had trouble with was gauging the amount of bread? How do you measure 10 cups of bread?!?

My sister shared this recipe with me. She made it for her card group and got raves about it. A woman asked for the recipe was awed, however, when she read the recipe. It does have quite a few steps.

This Thanksgiving is definitely going to be different. But as a sister-in-law pointed out when the family was discussing how to spend the holiday, "Some of my most memorable Thanksgivings were the different ones."

Her comment reminded me of a couple very memorable Thanksgivings:

When I was a freshman in college, I couldn't afford to fly home, so a small group of my newly made (and also homeless) friends and I made a Thanksgiving dinner in the dorm's kitchen. None of the dishes we made were exactly like "home" but we did our best and I can still picture the candle wax dripping down the wine bottle.

Several years later, when I was the ripe old age of 23, I decided I was going to host Thanksgiving for the whole family. What was I thinking?!? But it was wonderful. Best of all, they all came! My sister brought a blank apron, and fabric pens for every one to sign. I wish I still had that.

And my nephew and I will never tell anyone that we dropped the candied sweet potatoes on the kitchen floor, scooped them all up, and ate them anyway. 

I'm not sure yet what I'll be making for Thanksgiving. Still working on it, and Mr. Rosemary isn't too picky. He did say that we had to have turkey, though. He must want to be sure and have the tryptophan for a healthy nap.

Enjoy your COVID Thanksgiving, whatever you do. Whatever you do, you're sure to remember it.

Savory Bread Pudding with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese

Makes 10 to 12 servings

from Bon Appetit 

1 1-pound loaf crusty country-style white bread

1/4 cup olive oil

4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 large garlic clove, minced

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (about 1 large onion)

1 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery (about 3 stalks)

1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

8 large eggs

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups loosely packed). Place cubes in a very large bowl. Add oil, thyme, and garlic; toss to coat. Spread cubes out on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Return toasted bread cubes to the same very large bowl.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables and parsley to bread cubes.

Whisk heavy cream, eggs, salt, and ground pepper in large bowl. Mix custard into bread and vegetables. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Sprinkle cheese over. (If you want to do ahead, cover and refrigerate at this point. Just bring the dish to room temperature before baking.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake stuffing uncovered until set and top is golden, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Let's Have Lasagna for Breakfast!


I must confess that I have eaten pizza for breakfast, but not lasagna. At least not until my sister-in-law told me about having a special breakfast lasagna. 

“Lasagna for breakfast!?!” I asked. 

“Yeah,” she answered. “It was really good.”  

Although she didn’t have the recipe, she described it well. I peppered her with questions, wondering if it had lasagna noodles, a tomato sauce, what kind of cheese. 

Armed with all her answers, I went in search of a recipe. First, I went to my pretty substantial cookbook library and came up dry. None of my favorites had anything like what she described. 

So I resorted to the internet and was surprised at how many different versions of “breakfast lasagna” I found. There were recipes with lasagna noodles, crepes, pancakes, and tortillas. Some had red sauce; but most didn’t.  Some had bacon, ham, sausage, even seafood. 

I found one that pretty closely resembled what my sister-in-law had described on a website called “Just a Pinch.” Using that as a starting point, I went from there and added my own twists. 

I really don’t make lasagna very often. First of all, it’s a lot of work, and it’s far too much for two people. 

Making lasagna is an act of love. It is its own art form. It is my husband’s family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It’s what my daughter requests when she comes home. 

Like pizza, I don’t think I’ve ever met a lasagna I didn’t like. You can make a good lasagna with store bought sauce and noodles, and plenty of mozzarella, and ricotta or cottage cheese. You can make a great lasagna with homemade crepes and ragu, a rich bechamel sauce, and a variety of meats and cheeses. And there are all kinds of levels in between.

This breakfast lasagna has layers of noodles and scrambled eggs smothered in a sausage gravy and lots of cheese. The eggs replace the ricotta layer in traditional lasagna. It’s still rich, and if you really need to lighten it up, you can use milk instead of half and half for the sausage gravy. But don’t leave out the nutmeg; it adds just the right touch of spice to the dish. 

The acid test was Mr. Rosemary's critique. He looked at me kind of funny when I told him that we were having a breakfast lasagna, but he was game to try it. After the first bite, he simply said, “This is good.” After his plate was clean and he wanted another piece, he said, “That was real good.” 

I have to warn you that this does take a little time to prepare and a few pans to clean up. But once the lasagna is prepped and the kitchen is clean, you can put it in the fridge overnight for the next day and sit down leisurely to a feast the next morning. If you do make it ahead, take it out of the fridge about a half hour before baking. 

I know this will be a repeat at our house. I wish I would have dreamed it up myself. Maybe I should work on that. Breakfast Chili maybe? 


Breakfast Lasagna

adapted from “Just a Pinch.” 

Serves 10-12

9 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 pound bulk Italian sausage (sweet or hot,) cooked and crumbled

12 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup half and half

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

12 slices provolone cheese

1 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cup half and half

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13" x 9" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.Whisk together eggs and 1/2 cup half and half.

In a large skillet, scramble eggs over low heat until just set, remove from heat.In another frying pan, over medium high heat, cook the sausage until browned.Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.

In the same skillet, add the vegetable oil and cook the peppers and onions until softened.Add flour and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.

Whisk together the 3 ½ cups of half and half, add salt, pepper, and nutmeg and add to onions and peppers and continue to cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it thickens slightly. Remove from heat.

Mix together 1 cup mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. (Reserve remaining cheese for top.) Spread ½ cup of the white sauce evenly in pan. Evenly space 3 lasagna noodles over sauce. Pour 1 cup sauce over noodles. Then, evenly spread 1/3 each of sausage, scrambled eggs and cheeses over noodles. Repeat the layers two more times -- noodles, white sauce, sausage, eggs and cheese, ending with cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup mozzarella and bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.


Monday, November 25, 2019

THE Best Thanksgiving Dessert: Pumpkin Crunch Cake

Photo credit: Dennis Littley

Trust me when I tell you that you'll regret it if you don't make this cake!

It might be too late to plan for it this Thanksgiving, but you could for Christmas. Or New Year's. Any holiday. Any day. Just make it. It's that good.

And worth every dish you'll dirty and every hour in the kitchen.

The first time I made this cake, I was in the kitchen for about 4 hours, including clean up time. And I dirtied a lot! But it was oh-so-worth-it!

You can see that not only is it a FOUR layer cake, but there's a wonderful crunchy layer in between the cake layers, and between those layers is the creamiest of cream cheese frostings. The crunch is a mixture of nuts, crushed vanilla wafers and sugar. That crunch and the cream and the cake dance together for party in your mouth.

Counting calories? Forget it. You don't want to know.

Even if you think you don't like pumpkin, you'll love this cake.The pumpkin and spicy flavors are not overwhelming. Even my Mr. Rosemary -- not a pumpkin fan -- declared this the best cake I ever made.

Here's a little confession: While my husband thinks I'm a good cook, he's not as enthusiastic about my baking. There a handful of things I've learned to bake that he likes. The toughest nut to crack was a chocolate chip cookie: They have to be soft and just the right ratio of nuts and chocolate to cookie.

And he's pretty fond of my cheesecakes. Although it took a little convincing for him to like the pumpkin cheesecake.

(And I'd probably rank this pumpkin cheesecake as the second best Thanksgiving dessert)

I have to thank Dennis Littley (aka Chef Dennis) for introducing me to this cake. It made me a minor  rock star in my own little circle of family and friends. For the complete recipe, please visit Chef Dennis's blog.

I first made this cake a couple years ago for my sister-in-law's birthday. Everyone loved it and even I was surprised at how good it was. I've made it a few times since then, always forhappy people. And I've even managed to cut kitchen time down to two hours.

This is the first time I've posted anything on my blog in a couple years, I'm embarrassed to say. I'm not really sure why I stopped.  I started writing a bit about my breast cancer treatment and after that, it was hard to jump back into things. Writing about food didn't seem quite as important to me.

I think the biggest reason I stopped was shear laziness. I still cooked, still experimented, but I stopped taking the time to take pictures. Not to just take  any old picture, but I lost the energy to make them pretty and appealing. (That's why I asked Dennis Littley if I could use his photo. Thank you!)

But I still love to write, and still love to cook, so I'll be back.

Thank you for visiting.