Asparagus Pickled and Asparagus Soup

Roadside stands and farm markets selling fresh asparagus is a sure sign of Spring in Michigan.  At our house we love asparagus roasted, in risotto, in quiche and, of course, pickled.  Anyway it’s served!  The pickled spears make perfect Bloody Mary swizzlers, make a relish tray look fancy and are just great for munching.  Several people were joking about asparagus and smelly pee so I decided to do a little research to see what causes the smell.  Asparagus, they say, contains asparagusic acid…not a very creative name…which breaks down into sulfur containing compounds when ingested.  Apparently everyone’s urine is pungent after eating asparagus however not everyone has the special gene that allows them to smell it.  Interesting.  In my research I came across a quote by French novelist Marcel Proust from the early 1900s.  He wrote  “asparagus transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume”.  I can tell you I do not have the “flask of perfume” gene.  In my reading I also learned that to cultivate white asparagus the shoots are covered with soil as they grow.  No exposure to sunlight causes them to remain white.  White or green, asparagus is very low in calories (about 3 calories a spear) and high in vitamins and fiber.  So enjoy guilt free!!

I bought about 25 pounds of asparagus and turned the majority of it into pickled spears…20 pint and a half jars.  I used taller jars allowing for longer spears but you still trim off several inches.  So as not to let that all go to waste I made asparagus soup.  Recipe follows.

Pickled Asparagus Ingredients:

7-8 pounds of asparagus trimmed to the appropriate length

2 quarts of water

1 quart of white vinegar

1 cup of granulated sugar

2 tsp mustard seed

1 T dill seed

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 T black pepper corns

1 T kosher salt

14 cloves of garlic peeled

1 onion sliced

Trim the spears to approximately 6″ and wash them thoroughly.  Sterilize the jars in a water bath.  In a heavy kettle combine the water, vinegar, sugar and spices and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and maintain the brine at a simmer.

In the meantime clean the garlic cloves and thin slice the onion.

Once the asparagus is trimmed, brine is simmering and onions and garlic are ready begin filling your jars.  I find it easiest to lay a sterilized jar on it’s side to fill it with spears adding some onion slices and a couple cloves of garlic to each jar.  Once the jar is filled top off with hot brine leaving 1/4 inch of head space.  Seal the jars.

Once all of the jars have been filled process them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars and allow them to cool completely.  As with all other canned goods I store them in a cool dry place,  Make sure the jars have sealed before stowing them away.  If a jar did not seal put it in the refrigerator and enjoy within a few weeks.  The quantities above made 7 pint and a half jars.

Allow the jars to sit for a couple of weeks prior to sampling.  That allows the brine to permeate the asparagus spears.

NOTE:  If you like your spears kicked up, add some sliced fresh jalapeño  to each jar or increase the red pepper flakes.

 

All of these yummy pieces of asparagus (and more) were left behind after my pickling and I did not want them to go to waste so they became soup.

 

Cream of Asparagus Soup Ingredients

2 pounds of asparagus pieces

1 medium onion rough diced

2-3 cloves of garlic

2 T butter

24 oz chicken broth

2 medium potatoes peeled and rough chopped

3 ribs of celery rough chopped

1 tsp of thyme

lemon juiced (approximately 1/4 cup)

12 oz half n half

Salt and Pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven heat the butter and saute the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the asparagus, potato and celery.  Saute for 2-3 more minutes.

Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for approximately 20 minutes until all of the vegetables are tender.

Add the thyme and using an immersion blender blend until smooth.  Stir in the lemon juice.

Stir in the half n half and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Bring the soup back to a simmer.

While the soup is warming blanch some asparagus tips and pieces and set aside to add to the soup.

Ladle the soup into bowls.  Add some asparagus pieces and garnish with Parmesan cheese.  Serve with homemade croutons or crusty bread.

NOTE:  Discard the thick tough stalks and wash and cut the tender left over stalks into 1-2 inch pieces.  Blanch, bag and freeze.  They can be used in soup, quiche, or other recipes.

Cauliflower Soup with Cudighi

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It’s very cold in Michigan.  Perfect weather for soup.  The secret ingredient in this soup is cudighi.  Cudighi is Italian sausage that originated in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Most specifically it is said to have been invented by Italian immigrants in Ishpeming Michigan which happens to be where I was born.  Cudighi is made using pork butt and dry red wine, garlic, cinnamon,  nutmeg, clove and allspice.  The cudighi I used came from a little Co-op in my hometown of Chatham Michigan.  This sausage is very versatile.  It is excellent in spaghetti sauce or lasagna, formed into paddies and fried for a sandwich, mixed with ground beef for meatloaf or meat balls, as a pizza topping.  Your only limits are you imagination and, of course, your ability to access cudighi in the first place.  It might just be worth a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to score a few pounds.  Or Vollwerths cudighi can be shipped from U.P. Foods in Lake Linden (info@upfoods.com).  If a trip to the UP or waiting for a sausage shipment seems like too much trouble, substitute with a good  Italian sausage available closer to home.

Ingredients:

1 pound cudighi (or Italian sausage of your choosing)

1 head of cauliflower

3-4 stalks of celery rough chopped

2-3 carrots sliced

3 leeks, white and light green parts, sliced

4-5 cloves of garlic diced

2 medium russet potatoes rough chopped

1 poblano pepper seeded and rough chopped

4 cups chicken broth

4 T flour

4 T butter

2 cups half and half or whole milk

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

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In a dutch oven cook the Cudighi over medium heat until it is no longer pink.  Drain and set aside.

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While the meat is browning prep all of the vegetables.  Slice the leeks and soak them in water.  Leeks tend to hold sand and you don’t want grit in your soup.

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Wash and cut up the poblano, celery and carrots.

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Peel and dice the potatoes and cut the cauliflower into flowerettes.

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Once the cudighi has been browned and set aside add the carrot, celery, and leeks to the drippings and sweat the vegetables over medium heat 3-4 minutes.  Add in the leeks and garlic and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes.  If necessary add a little olive oil.

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Add the potato, cauliflower and broth to the kettle.  Season with salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover the kettle and cook until the vegetables are all tender, 30-40 minutes.

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While the vegetables are simmering make a white sauce in a heavy sauce pan.  Melt 4 T of butter and whisk in the flour over medium heat.  Slowly add the milk continuing to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the shredded cheese.

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Once the vegetables are fork tender purée using an immersion blender.  The consistency is a matter of personal taste.  You can leave some chunks in the soup or purée until smooth.  Once you’ve done the blending add the cheesy white sauce to your dutch oven as well as the sausage.  Add salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.  Stir and bring to a simmer.

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Garnish with additional shredded cheese, green onions and cilantro.  And homemade garlic croutons.

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Ladle into serving bowls and enjoy!

NOTE:  Fresh parsley or basil leaves sliced, shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese,  or some chopped roasted red pepper would all make excellent garnishes for this soup.  Great served with a slice of good sourdough bread that you can use to clean your bowl.

I happen to think that soups are one of those things that taste a little better the second day.  We will be eating this soup for lunch tomorrow.

Chicken Soup with Vegetables and Orzo

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I baked a roasting chicken one night and used the rest of the chicken for soup the next.   You could also shred half of a grocery store rotisserie chicken.  In less than an hour you will have a perfect comfort food that is hearty and full of vegetables and chicken.  And it can be easily modified based on your personal preferences and/or what you have in your refrigerator.  We all know that chicken soup cures what ails you no matter what’s in it.

Ingredients:

1 cup of onion rough chopped

1 cup of celery rough chopped

1 poblano pepper diced (seeded if you want to keep the heat down)

1 cup of carrots sliced

2 cloves of garlic minced

2 T olive oil

6 cups of chicken broth

1 can hominy drained and rinsed

2 cups baby spinach

1/2 cup each of fresh parsley and fresh cilantro

zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 cup uncooked orzo

salt and pepper to taste

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In a heavy kettle or dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sweat the celery, onion, carrots and pepper for about 5 minutes.  Add the minced garlic.  Reduce the heat, partially cover the kettle and cook until the carrots are tender.

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While the vegetables are cooking bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orzo according to package instructions.

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Drain and rinse the hominy.

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Add the broth to the vegetables and bring it to a boil.  Cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

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Drain the orzo reserving some of the pasta water.  Add the orzo, chicken and hominy to the soup.  Simmer until the chicken is heated through.

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Stir in the lemon zest and juice, parsley and cilantro and the spinach.

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Stir until the spinach is wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  If the soup needs more liquid add in some of the pasta water.

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Ladle into bowls and serve with toasted tortilla strips.

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Enjoy!!

NOTE:  I love the lemon in this soup but it’s really a matter of personal taste.  You could substitute peas and mushroom for the pepper and hominy.  Serve with a good crusty bread or your favorite crackers.  Cooking the pasta (or rice) prior to adding it to the soup helps to avoid pasta that is overcooked and absorbs all of the broth.

 

Pizza Sauce

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Last year when I was canning tomatoes I decided to make salsa.  As usual, I did more than necessary and have plenty of salsa left for this year.  This season I made some of my tomatoes into pizza sauce.  There is no pizza delivery anywhere remotely close to where we live so when we are craving pizza I need to make it myself.  The sauce is relatively easy to make.  Cooking down the tomatoes is the most time consuming part so you need to be patient or you will end up with watery sauce.  The kitchen smells so good when this sauce is cooking.

Ingredients:

Tomatoes , approximately 4 quarts peeled and diced

2 T olive oil

1 Large Onion diced

6 or more cloves of garlic (I used more)

2 T oregano

2 T basil

2 T celery seed

4 T chopped fresh parsley

2 T salt

2 T granulated sugar

cracked pepper to taste

1/4 tsp citric acid per pint of sauce

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Core, peel and dice the tomatoes.  Bring a large kettle of water to a boil and drop a few tomatoes in for a minute or so until you see the skins start to break.  Remove the tomatoes to an ice water bath and slide the skins off.  Dice and put the tomatoes into a large, non aluminum, kettle.

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Begin cooking the tomatoes over medium heat.  In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent but not brown.  Add the onion and garlic to the tomatoes.

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Bring the tomatoes to a simmer stirring frequently.  Add the sugar, herbs and spices, and salt and pepper.  Once the tomatoes begin to break down use an immersion blender to get a nice, smooth sauce.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have reduced by approximately 50% and you have a nice sauce that clings to the spoon.

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Ladle the sauce into sterilized jars (I used pints).  Add 1/4 tsp of citric acid just before sealing the jars.  Process the sauce in a hot water bath for 45 minutes.  Once you remove the jars from the water bath allow them to cool completely before storing.

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That is not ALL pizza sauce…better than half the jars are diced tomatoes.  Now, all you need to do is whip up a crust and get a pizza in the oven.  I made one with the sauce that was left over after filling my jars and some of our favorite toppings.

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NOTE. If you don’t have an immersion blender you can use a regular blender or food processor and process in small batches.  Also feel free to add other spices or increase/decrease some of the ones that I used.  If you like your sauce kicked up a little add some red pepper flakes.

I put my garlic cloves in the tomatoes without dicing.  Once the sauce simmered for awhile the immersion blender took care of  them.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

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Earlier this week I made stuffed peppers and there were a few left over.  While we love leftovers, and truthfully, sometimes leftovers taste even better than they did the first time around, this time I decided to repurpose them.  We have had some pretty chilly May days and soup sounded perfect so I turned the peppers into soup.  Definitely an easy dish.  Earlier this year I posted my recipe for stuffed peppers.  I use ground pork and rice, lots of onion and garlic, and tomatoes.  Any recipe that you use for peppers would work in this soup.

Ingredients:

2-3 leftover stuffed peppers

1 pint of diced tomatoes

2 cups of beef broth (I use Better than Boullion)

2 T olive oil

1 cup rough diced sweet onion

3-4 cloves of garlic minced

basil and oregano

1 T brown sugar

1 pint green beans

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Heat olive oil in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven and add the diced onion.  Cook for two to three minutes stirring occasionally until the onion are tender but not brown.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

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Rough chop the peppers and add them to the pot.

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Add the tomatoes, brown sugar and broth.

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Stir in the green beans and fresh herbs.

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Bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  All of the ingredients have already been cooked.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with a little shredded cheese.  I used Asiago but you can use any of your favorites.  Perfect on a chilly evening with some good, crusty bread.

NOTE:  You can substitute corn, diced zucchini, or frozen peas for the green beans.  If you have more leftover peppers increase the broth and tomato portions.  Enjoy your leftovers!

Tomato Bisque

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This is a rich, tomatoey soup that is a big hit with almost everyone I’ve served it to.  We all grew up eating Campbell’s tomato soup.  When I was a kid, long long ago, on Saturday nights we often had tomato soup with popcorn in it.  It’s actually a very good combo.  I saw a recipe a while back for tomato popcorn soup in an issue of  Food Network magazine.  Of course they used popcorn with truffle oil and grated truffle percorino cheese but even so,  they must have channeled my mother.  I think our family had this because it was a very inexpensive dinner that went a long way.  Truffle oil and truffle percorino would have defeated the purpose.  Plus the little general store in my hometown carried neither.  This soup recipe also uses a little Campbell’s but it’s the add-ins that make it so amazing.  The recipe originated from a bar-restaurant in Jackson Michigan.  I’ve modified it a bit by adding red or orange bell pepper, fresh garlic, and fresh basil.  I also use my home canned stewed tomatoes but good store bought stewed tomatoes work great.

Ingredients:

4 T butter

1 large sweet onion diced

1 red or orange bell pepper diced

4-5 garlic cloves sliced

3 pints stewed tomatoes

1 large family size can Campbell’s tomato soup

8 oz cream cheese

1 T dried basil

3 cups half-n-half

salt and pepper to taste

fresh basil and  Asiago cheese for garnish

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Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or heavy kettle over medium high heat and add the onions and peppers.  Cook until they are tender, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook an additional minute or two until the garlic is fragrant.

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Reduce the heat.  Stir in the tomatoes and tomato soup.  Cube the cream cheese and add that to the tomatoes.

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Cook over low heat until heated through.  Stir in the dried basil and salt and pepper to taste.  Use an immersion blender and purée the soup.  If you don’t have an immersion blender you can add the soup, in batches, to your food processor or blender.  Stir in the half-n-half.  Continue to cook over low heat until the soup comes to a simmer.  Serve it up garnished with fresh chiffonaded basil, shredded cheese and croutons.  I used Asiago cheese and croutons made from swirl rye.  Enjoy!

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NOTE:  You can add some diced oven dried tomatoes, diced green onion, or another favorite cheese like sharp cheddar or smoked Gouda.  This soup can also double as an awesome sauce for vegetable crepes or pasta dishes.  This soup  freezes beautifully.

 

Poached Cod with Tomato and White Beans

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I haven’t been blogging for a few days but I have been cooking.  A couple of nights ago I made poached cod.  We love fish and tomato dishes and this fits the bill for both.  Cod is a mild fish available in most grocery stores.  In the fish counter or the freezer.  Either will work fine for this dish.  Unless I have fish that was just caught, cleaned and ready for cooking I soak my fish in milk for at least 30 minutes.

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I am convinced that this takes away the fishy smell that turns some people off to eating fish.  Making sure you don’t over cook your fish also keeps the fish odors to a minimum.  I know people who absolutely refuse to cook fish at home because of the smell.  When I make this dish people walking into my house are more likely to say they smell onion and garlic.  Everyone loves the smell of onion and garlic!

Ingredients:

1 cod filet (approximately one pound)

2 T olive oil

1 medium yellow onion diced

3 or 4 cloves of garlic sliced

1 pint diced tomatoes

1 cup chicken broth

1 can tomato sauce

1/4 cup capers drained

1/4 cup kalamata olives sliced

1 can cannelloni beans

salt and pepper to taste

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Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Cook the onions until they are tender but not browned.  Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute until the garlic is fragrant.

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Reduce the heat and stir in the tomatoes and the chicken broth.  Add the tomato sauce and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

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Stir in the capers and olives.  Drain and rinse the beans and add those.  Simmer for another 10 minutes.

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Pat the fish that you’ve soaked in milk dry. Cut it into serving size pieces and immerse the fish in the tomato broth.  Cover the pan and allow it to simmer for 5-10 minutes until the fish is cooked through and flakes.  Remove from the heat.  Serve the fish, along with the broth and beans, over rice.

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One of my favorite fish dishes.

NOTE:  You could also add the cooked rice to the tomato broth, break up the fish pieces and serve this as a soup.  However you choose to serve it I think you will find it homey and very satisfying.

If you like kicked up favors you could add some red pepper flakes and/or cayenne pepper when you add the olives and capers.

Matzo Balls with Chicken Soup

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This post is more about the matzo balls and less about the soup.  I make a decent chicken soup.  I fill a heavy kettle with about 6 to 8 cups of water and add a whole chicken cut up, several carrots, stalks of celery and a large sweet onion.  And salt of course.  I bring the pot to a boil, skim the top occasionally, and simmer for a couple of hours.  I take the breast piece out after about 30 minutes and set that meat aside to add back to the soup before serving.

My mother-in-law made the most beautiful chicken soup.  Her broth was a perfect golden color and was so clear.  It was amazing.  I wish I had pictures of her chicken soup.  Maybe it was the Kosher chickens she used.  Maybe it was because she’d been cooking it up 70 plus years and practice makes perfect.  (She lived to nearly 102.)   I wish I had paid more attention.  I wish I had learned how to make her chicken soup.  I wish I had learned her matzo ball recipe as well.  They were light and airy and took on the flavor of the broth.

It’s all about the matzo ball.  When my sister-in-law calls me, a picture of a giant matzo ball from a Jewish deli in the Chicago area comes up on my phone.

Matzo is an unleavened bread, much like a cracker, traditionally eaten during the Jewish celebration of Passover.  Matzo meal is made by finely grinding the matzo bread into a breadcrumb consistency.  And matzo balls are made using matzo meal.

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups matzo meal

2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

5 large eggs, 3 separated

1/4 cup chicken broth or water

1/4 cup schmaltz melted

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Separate three of the eggs and whisk together two whole eggs and three egg yolks.

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Beat the egg whites until peaks form and set aside.  Whisk together all of the dry ingredients.  Add the egg yolk mixture, broth, and melted schmaltz to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.

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Stir in about 1/2 of the egg whites.  Gently fold in the remaining egg whites until the whites are no longer visible.

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Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.  Scoop up about a tablespoon of the matzo and gently form into balls.  Do not overhandle.  If you find the matzo sticking to your fingers dip your fingers into a bowl of water with a little canola or olive oil.  This recipe makes 12-14 matzo balls.

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Bring your broth to a boil and gently drop in the matzo balls,  Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for 20-25 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

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Serve  with broth and enjoy!  It’s all about the  matzo ball.

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NOTE:  Schmaltz is chicken fat.  My daughter brought some to use on our turkey when she came from Chicago for Thanksgiving.  There was leftover schmaltz so I used my cookie scoop, made schmaltz balls and froze them.  You can google schmaltz and make your own if you don’t have a deli nearby that carries it.  Or you can substitute canola oil in this recipe.

If your parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle makes a dish that you adore eating, pay attention.  Ask them to show you how to make it.  Write it down.  Make a video.  They will be so proud and happy that you asked.  And one day, when they are no longer with us, you will be able to replicate that favorite dish.

Applesauce

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It’s apple season and this  weekend was applesauce Sunday.  I like cranberry sauce with most of my chicken or turkey dishes and applesauce with pork dishes and now I’m stocked up for the winter.  Applesauce also makes a nice addition to a bowl of oatmeal or just as a snack.  One of my sister-in-laws thinks my applesauce is the best and she wanted my secret recipe.  There is no secret recipe.  No secret ingredients.  No sugar.  No spice.  My applesauce is just apples.  A variety of apples.  The variety is the only secret and there is no hard and fast rule.  Just combine some tart, some sweet.  Some that cook down more quickly, some that remain firmer.

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Peel, core, and slice the apples.  A peeler, corer, slicer machine is very handy.  A friend with two extra hands to peel, core, and slice and keep you company while they work is great too.

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Put the prepared apples into a large, heavy kettle and add about 1 cup of water.  Cover and cook over medium heat opening the lid and stirring occasionally.  Once the apples cook down a bit, uncover, and use your wooden spoon or a potato masher to get the apples to the consistency you prefer.  We like chunky applesauce.  Once it’s reached the desired “chunkiness” turn the heat to low,

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Sterilize your jars and lids in a hot water bath.  Put the hot applesauce into the hot jars leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth to make sure there is nothing to interfer with the seal.  Put the lid and ring on the jar.

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Process the jars in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.  Remove the jars and place on a heavy towel and allow them to cool completely.

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Store the jars in a cool place.  Remove the rings from the jars before storing them.  Making applesauce is a little time consuming but simple process.  This winter you’ll  be happy you did it.

NOTE:  One bushel of apples made 35 pints of sauce with a little extra left for dinner that night.  Last year I added 20-25 red hot candies to a couple of my batches of sauce.  It gave the sauce a nice pink tint and added a little cinnamon flavor.

 

Mango and Red Bean Salsa

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This is a quick and easy salsa to make and one that we enjoy with fish.  My father loved to fish. To him it was one of life’s greatest pleasures. He can tell you a lot of fish stories. We ate a lot of fresh water fish, never ocean fish, and we enjoyed our fish pan fried or occasionally made into fish soup. Friday nights were fish fry nights. But we would have never considered eating salsa with fish.  Especially not one made with mango.  I never tasted a mango until I was an adult. My dad would look at this salsa and say, “what is that?  I don’t think I’d care for that.”  But that’s okay. I think if you try it, you’ll like it.

Ingredients:

2 ripe mangos

1 can small red beans or black beans

1/2 cup diced red onion

bunch of cilantro rough chopped

Juice of one lime (1/4 cup)

3 T olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

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Peel and dice the mangos. Dice red onion.  Drain and rinse the beans.

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Rough chop the cilantro.

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Put the beans, onion, mango and cilantro into a bowl and toss. Squeeze the lime, add the olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste.   Toss again.

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Ready to serve.

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We had the salsa tonight with grilled walleye and asparagus. It was a perfect dinner.

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If you like things a little kicked up add a diced jalapeño pepper.  You can also serve this with corn chips.  Or with fish tacos.

Enjoy.