It’s not always practical to follow a recipe, although it may be easier on some fronts. Certainly, knowing that someone else has tested a recipe increases the chances of success. On the other hand, when those moments arrive when ‘there’s nothing in the fridge to eat’ but still no space for more food, it’s time to get creative. Typically, following a recipe is not going to use up the eclectic mix of ingredients found collected in your home and refrigerator.
In these moments, soup is one among many meals that work well for using up odds and ends of things. However, this needs to be done in a somewhat thoughtful fashion, else the soup becomes a muddy, unappetizing mess – everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sort of mess. The ingredients should somehow relate to one another. What I found yesterday in the house were the following… all needing to find a home in a meal.
Chicken and Red Kidney Bean Chili
diced green pepper
partial packet of taco seasoning from a taco kit
plus some extra cumin
salt and pepper
cooked red kidney beans
Heat the oil in a medium stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers and saute until translucent. Add the garlic, chicken, spices, salt and pepper and saute until the chicken is cooked through. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes and either serve or let sit refrigerated for a day to absorb the flavors of the spices.
Waiting one more day before I go to the grocery store
New England Clam Chowder was one of the first things I learned to make when I came to Maine to work on a Maine windjammer more than twenty-five years ago. This simple recipe is both a signature dish and an iconic meal that embodies the characteristics of New England in general and Maine in specific: hearty, warming, simple, frugal and nourishing.
It’s only a few days until daylight savings time, however, until the snow melts from the ground and the temperature rises above 35 degrees most days, comfort food will remain a staple in our house. I just can’t bring myself to keep the stove off! Scarves, many layers, turtlenecks and fingerless mittens are also a constant. It’s just how it is some years in Maine.
I find myself looking for those things I love because complaining about weather, over which I have zero control, is not my cup of tea (or bowl of stew)… Could this be the last snow fall of the season? How lovely that a new coat of snow has freshened up the roadsides and our yard. Are those cardinals at the bird feeder? The seeds are on their way. The green is on its way. The warmth is on its way….
And for now I’ll delight in the cozy meals that still sound just as delicious now as they did in October when I began to crave them. Fish Stew with Porcini Mushrooms is the recipe that ran in the Portland Press Herald today. Of course Quick Buttermilk Bread goes super well with the stew. Check it out.
Rosemary Chicken And Dumplings
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (remove the skin if desired; I usually take the skin off the breast and thighs)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 cups chopped onion; about 1 large onion
2 cups peeled and chopped carrots; about 2 large carrots
2 cups chopped celery; about 3 stalks of celery
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic; about 3 cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3/4 cup milk
Heat the oil in a large, wide stockpot over medium-high heat. Toss the chicken, flour, salt, pepper and paprika together until the chicken is coated. Place the chicken in the heated pot and cook until browned on all sides. Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and herbs; cook for another 10 to 15 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the white wine and stock; bring it to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, about 1 hour.
Cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add the milk. Mix just until the milk is incorporated. Drop 1-inch balls of dough on top of the simmering chicken. Cover and cook an additional 10 minutes. NO PEEKING!
After a spell of overindulgence, there’s nothing our bodies crave more than vegetables and especially green ones. In all shapes and forms, greens are good for us and the greener, the better.
Today’s column runs with a recipe for Spinach Soup and it’s variations. The soup is a brilliant emerald-green and scrumptious and warm all at the same time. My favorite variation is the Spinach with Cannellini Beans and Chicken. It’s one where you could use leftover chicken and add it at the very end or sauté a chicken breast or two along with making the rest of the soup.
Spinach, Cannelli Beans and Chicken Soup
This soup is a gorgeous, bright green, and should be served immediately. If you would like to make it ahead, prepare everything, up to adding the spinach. When you are ready to serve, heat the soup to a simmer and purée with spinach in the blender as per the directions.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced onions; about 1 medium onion
1 1/2 cups diced celery; about 2 stalks
1 cup peeled and diced parsnips; about 2 parsnips
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Several grinds of fresh black pepper
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 ounces spinach leaves, de-stemmed and well washed; about 3 cups lightly packed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
14 ounces chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces; about 2 chicken breast halves
1, 15-ounce can cannellini beans
Garnish with minced chives or a swirl of crème frâiche
In a medium stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables, salt and pepper and sauté until they become soft and translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the stock and again bring to a boil.
Place the uncooked spinach leaves in the blender and pour the hot stock over the leaves. Carefully purée in a blender. Meanwhile, heat the second 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the stock pot over medium-high heat and add the chicken. When the chicken is just cooked through, add the beans to heat and then the pureed stock back into the pot. Mix well, turn off heat and serve immediately.
Farmer Tom from Hope’s Edge delivered gorgeous fronds of leeks to me in early May last year – not nearly far enough into the growing season to have them as large as they were. But these leeks were special. They’d been heeled in and over-wintered under a deep layer of straw.
When we had a bumper crop of King Richard leeks last fall, I decided to give it a try. Who knows, right? As E and I tromped out to the garden to take a look, I could see bits of brown stem poking through the straw and I wasn’t sure they’d made it. Our property is windy and the deep bed of straw had been partially blown off – by all those blizzards this winter. But some stuck and that was enough! While I couldn’t make a stock out of the tips, I was sure I could use the tender white and lime green parts closer to the roots.
This recipe used up the rest of the watercress from a batch of local cress which I wrote about in the Maine Ingredient – Creamy Potato and Watercress Soup. Similar, to this soup, but creamier and more elegant.
Potato, Leek and Watercress Soup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups diced onions; about 1/2 a large onion
4 cups diced leeks; about 5 medium leeks
6 cups white potatoes, quartered and sliced thinly; about 4 potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups lightly packed watercress leaves and stems, coarsely chopped into 1-inch lengths
1/2 cup cream fraiche
In a large pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, leeks, salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and white wine and bring to a simmer. Add the broth and bring to a simmer again. Simmer over medium heat until the potatoes are cooked through and beginning to break apart slightly, about another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add the watercress. Serve immediately with a dollop of cream fraiche on top.
For those who know me, but don’t live with me, it sometimes comes as a shock to find that I love football and specifically, the Patriots.
While our guys didn’t play as well as we know they can for the AFC Championship this year… and while I’m still adjusting to the fact that my Sundays will no longer be spent having a blast cheering on my team, there is a small light to this whole thing. I could actually have people over for Superbowl Sunday now. When I was sure that I would be watching the Patriots, I worried that maybe guests weren’t the best choice. One, what if I got grumpy because my team did what they did last weekend and struggled on defense AND offense? (Grumpy definitely happened last weekend.) Two, what if I needed to be hostess, but really all I wanted to do was watch the game? No, guests weren’t a good idea I said honestly to myself. But now, I’m good.
Now that that’s settled, what’s the menu? Well it could be pounds of chips and dip that would require weeks of running and P90X to burn off… OR it could be Texas Beef and Black Bean Chili, Cheesy Corn Muffins, Easy Salsa, Salsa Dip.
I can’t decide. Do I like Thanksgiving dinner better or the leftover dinner the next day? Nope, still can’t decide. The good thing is that I don’t have to. We had both.
Now that both the big meal and the equally good leftover meal are in the past, if you haven’t already taken those bones and made stock with them, today is the day to either deal with them in the form of stock or get them well wrapped and into the freezer until you do have time. I talk about how to make stock with your turkey bones in my latest column.
Corn, Bacon and Potato Soup was the final product of our turkey stock last night for dinner. It works because stock made this way is not as heavily poultry flavored as when you begin with raw bones. It becomes a mild background flavor rather than the main event. The oyster crackers are a traditional way of thickening chowder. I suppose this soup could be considered chowder if you weren’t such a traditionalist and didn’t require salt pork to call it so. They are salty and so is the bacon. Therefore, additional salt may not be needed. Taste at the end to be sure.
Corn, Bacon and Potato Soup
2 cups diced onions, about 1 large onion
4 slices bacon, diced
4 cups diced red potatoes, about 6 to 8 small to medium potatoes
several grinds of fresh black pepper
1 cup oyster crackers
4 to 6 cups turkey stock (or chicken broth)
1 cup whole milk
3 cups frozen corn kernels (but if it were in the middle of the summer, I’d definitely use fresh!)
pinch of salt to taste
Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat and add the onions and the bacon. Saute for 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the bacon has rendered fully. Add the potatoes, pepper and oyster crackers and saute for another several minutes or until things begin to brown slightly. Add the stock and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the milk and corn, bring to a simmer again and taste for salt.
Hurricane Sandy has now moved away from the Maine Coast and the lone casualty in this yard is the Amur Maple that continues to occasionally loose a limb and give us a little extra fire wood in the process. This tree has no actual horticultural value according to my gardening friends, however, its breadth and width gives us a barrier of privacy in an area of the yard which would feel entirely too open without it.
This is also the tree under which our girls have created small worlds among fairy houses, enacted stories within forts, climbed into notches with books and swung in hammocks for sun-kissed naps. Hard for me to say this tree has no value, so cut it down we will not. Instead we’ll just wait for Mother Nature to change it as it must and reap the benefits of the wood it provides.
While outside the weather raged last night, inside we were cozy and warm as we sat to dinner of another meal made from leftovers. This isn’t a recipe, but more of a guide to show you how I used what we had. Day 21 without going to the grocery store.
Creamy Pumpkin Broccoli Soup
pat or two of butter
dusting of flour
salt and pepper
cooked pumpkin – Canned pumpkin puree will work. I used pumpkin flesh from a roasted pie pumpkin.
broccoli – Fresh broccoli will work. I used leftover steamed broccoli with lemon.
vegetable or chicken stock
small amount of lemon juice if beginning with uncooked broccoli
Heat a stock pot over medium high heat. Melt the butter and add the onion and salt and pepper. Saute until onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Dust with flour and stir well to incorporate the flour. Add stock and milk in equal proportions and then add the pumpkin flesh. Bring to a simmer and transfer to a blender. Carefully puree the soup until it is smooth and creamy. Return to the stock pot and adjust for seasoning. Add the broccoli to the blender and puree with a little more stock until it is loose and liquidy. Pour the broccoli mixture into the soup pot and bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat and serve immediately so as not to loose the bright green color of the broccoli. If you are using uncooked broccoli, steam it first and then puree with the stock. Season to taste with a small amount of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Thankful to be on land and in our cozy house