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.

Broccoli Cauliflower Soup

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A couple weeks ago I experimented with new concoctions for dinners several nights in a row.  The first night that my husband dished up seconds was when I made this soup.  That was a good sign for the soup.  Not so good for the other dishes which I will probably not make again.  Originally I made this soup with just broccoli.  The second time I added cauliflower and made the soup for our good friends.  It was a hit.  ‘Tis soup season now and I’m sure I will make this often using both broccoli and cauliflower.

Ingredients:

2 cups sliced leeks

2 cups of broccoli flowerettes

2 cups of cauliflower

broccoli and cauliflower stems diced

6 cups of chicken broth

6 T butter

6 T flour

3 cups of whole milk

3 cups shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar and smoked gouda)

1 cup shredded carrots

grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

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Slice the leeks and broccoli and cauliflower stems.  Rinse them well, especially the leeks which tend to store up a lot of sand.

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Put the leeks and the vegetable stems in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven with about a cup of the broth and cook over medium high heat until they are softened, 10-15 minutes.  Once the vegetables have softened use an immersion blender off heat and purée.  Add the remaining broth and bring to a simmer.

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Blanch the broccoli and cauliflower flowerettes.  Drop them into ice water to stop the cooking and set aside.  Grate the carrots.

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Next make a cheese sauce.  Melt 6 T of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple minutes whisking constantly.

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Slowly whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer.  Gradually add the cheese whisking until it melts.

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Add the cheese mixture to the broth and vegetables.  Stir in the flowerettes, grated carrot and nutmeg.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Simmer until the vegetables are thoroughly heated.  Ladle up and enjoy!  Great served with homemade croutons.

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NOTE:  I took all of my photos when I made the first batch of soup so you don’t see any cauliflower.  But the cauliflower was a great addition.  Also a little cayenne pepper or Frank’s hot sauce is a tasty add in.  Any good melting cheese can be substituted for the sharp cheddar and smoky gouda.

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.

 

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.

Lasagna Soup

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Nearly eight years ago I traded my cigarettes in for knitting needles and became part of a phenomenal group of women.  We refer to ourselves as the Knit Wits. We meet weekly for lunch and knitting and road trips and we share recipes for some of the best food ever.  Our pot lucks are ridiculous. Seriously ridiculous!

This recipe, for lasagna soup, was contributed by a very special Knit Wit who passed away two years ago at age 85. We all miss her so much but every time I make one of her recipes I know she’s smiling. She loved to cook and feed people and she was an expert at it. She’d be proud that all of us continue to make and enjoy her food. I know that this soup will easily become one of your favorites as well.

Ingredients:

1 lb Italian sausage (hot or sweet or 50/50)

2 cups onion rough chopped

1 cup carrots sliced

2 cups mushrooms sliced

1 red pepper rough chopped

2 T garlic minced

4 cups chicken broth

1 14-oz can stewed tomatoes

10 oz can tomato sauce

2 cups fresh spinach

1 cup uncooked pasta (penne, mufaloa or your favorite)

4 tsp fresh basil or 2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp oregano

2 cups fresh spinach

salt and pepper to taste

sliced provolone or fresh mozzarella

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan

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In a Dutch oven or heavy kettle brown the sausage over medium heat. If you have sausages vs bulk sausage remove the casings.

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Add the onion and carrots.

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Sauté for about 3 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, pepper, garlic, basil and oregano.

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Sauté until garlic becomes fragrant. 1-2 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Bring to a boil.

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Drop in the pasta and simmer over low heat until the pasta is cooked.

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Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted.

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Slice the provolone or fresh mozzarella (I prefer the mozzarella) and put some in the bottom of the soup bowl. Grate some fresh pram to top the soup.

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Ladle the hot soup over the cheese and top with the parm.

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This is a very hearty, filling soup. Enjoy with some crusty Italian bread or a slice of warm garlic bread. This dish will make you wish you were a Knit Wit!

Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Poblano Peppers

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On subzero days nothing is more comforting than a pot of soup. And it seems this is a winter that will require many pots of soup. Potato leek soup is one of my favorites.  And leeks remind me of some of the shenanigans my 87 year old father has recounted from his childhood. Apparently he and his friends would go out into the woods behind school on their lunch hour and pull up all the wild leeks they could find. Wild leeks that resembled little green onions. They would eat enough of them to get breath so bad the teacher would send them home for the afternoon. Eventually the teachers got wise to the pranking and forbade them eating leeks during school hours. This summer I’m going to look in the woods by my house for wild leeks. For now I’ll buy the leeks my grocery carries and sells by the pound when only a third of the leek is actually edible.

Soup Ingredients:

3-4 leeks, white and light green portion sliced

2 pounds or so of golden potatoes peeled and cubed

4-5 cloves of garlic minced

4 T butter

2 poblano peppers roasted, peeled and diced

4 cups chicken broth

2 tsp dried thyme

1 T franks hot sauce

1 cup half-n-half (optional)

fresh parsley rough chopped

salt and pepper to taste

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Slice the leeks and wash them well. Leeks have lots of sand and grit.

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Melt the butter in your favorite soup kettle, add the leeks and salt and pepper, cover the pot and cook over low heat for about ten minutes. Be careful not to brown the leeks.

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While the leeks are cooking roast the poblanos over a flame or in the oven until they have a nice char. Put them into a covered bowl to steam. Once the peppers have cooled peel and chop them.

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Add the chopped peppers and the garlic to the leeks and stir for a minute or so until the garlic is fragrant.

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Add the potatoes and broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until the potatoes are fork tender; about 20 minutes.

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Once the potatoes are done use an immersion blender to purée the soup. Or you can use a standard blender and purée the soup in batches.

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Stir in the thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and the Franks. If you choose, a cup of half-n-half will make the soup a little richer and creamier.

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Garnish the soup with parsley and some shredded sharp cheddar. Potato, leek and roasted poblano soup. It’s what was for dinner.

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NOTE:  I’m not a soup and crackers person but I do like croutons in my soup. I had leftover garlic bread from a pasta dinner a couple nights ago. I cubed the bread and dried it in the oven and it made perfect croutons.

 

Boiled Dinner

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Boiled dinner is comfort food.  It’s not glamorous or gourmet dining. It’s a dinner my grandmother used to make with pork chops or pork steaks. She probably didn’t put any vegetables or tomatoes in because my grandfather was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I’m going to make our boiled dinner with Polish sausage. This dish is one of my dad’s favorites and I’m wishing he was here with us to enjoy it. A very simple dish to prepare in one pot.  It’s a dish that is flexible and can accommodate to what’s in your fridge or what’s not in your fridge. I’ll give you the basics.

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil

1 medium head of cabbage

1 large onion

3 carrots

2 stalks of celery

5-6 redskin potatoes

3-4 cloves of garlic minced

2 tsp caraway seeds

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound Polish sausage

1 pint stewed tomatoes

4 cups chicken broth

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Rough chop the onion, celery and carrots. Heat olive oil in a heavy kettle and sweat the vegetables for 3 minutes or so.  Mince the garlic cloves and add to the kettle.

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Rough chop the potatoes and rinse them. Add to the other vegetables in the kettle.

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Core and rough chop the cabbage and add to the kettle.

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Cut the sausage into 1 inch pieces and add to the kettle. Add the caraway seed and salt and pepper to taste. Add tomatoes and chicken broth. Cover the kettle and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat. Simmer over low heat for 2 hours or so. Occasionally give it a stir.

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Ladle into soup dishes, add a small pat of butter and enjoy with some good bread.

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So that’s a boiled dinner. You could substitute pork chops or pork steaks. Cube them and let them cook in the broth. If you prefer andouille or a mild Italian sausage that will work. If you want more vegetables add green beans, parsnips, rutabaga, or turnips.

It’s what’s for dinner.

Santa Fe Green Chili with Pork

I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. I’ve been busy with the holidays and I had my 87 year old father visiting for a couple of wonderful weeks around Thanksgiving. My husband was bragging my blog up to my dad and my dad asked if I got paid for writing my recipes on the computer. I told him no, but one day my blog may make me famous. To which my dad replied, what good is being famous if you don’t make any money. Yup!  Ever the practical Finn.

So the possibility of fame is the lead in to this particular blog entry. I entered a Chili Cookoff that was held today. I decided to make my Santa Fe Green Chili with pork. I call it my Santa Fe Chili because I purchased the green chili powder that I use in this recipe on one of our visits to Santa Fe.   This is one of my favorite chili recipes!  And a lot of the chili tasters also liked it. I’m proud to say I placed second in the competition. Hope you’ll like it too.

Chili, like many other soups, tastes best the second day. If possible I would recommend preparing it the day before you plan to eat it. In this particular recipe there is a notable positive difference with the flavors and heat the second day.

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Ingredients:

2 pounds good lean ground pork

1 large onion diced

3-4 cloves of garlic minced

3-4 poblano peppers roasted, peeled and rough chopped

1-2 seeded and diced jalapeño pepper(s)

1 can mild green chilies diced

6 cups chicken broth

1 quart diced tomatoes

3 T dried oregano

1 T dried green chili powder

1 T cumin

salt to taste

2 cans cannellini beans drained and rinsed

2 15-oz cans yellow or white hominy drained and rinsed

1/4 cup (or more to taste) of fresh cilantro chopped

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On top of your gas range or in your oven roast the peppers. Once the peppers have a good char put them in a bowl and cover with Saran Wrap until they are cool enough to peel and dice.

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In a large heavy kettle cook the pork, onions and garlic until the pork is no longer pink.

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I like to to strain out any grease after cooking and then return the meat and onions to the kettle.

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Add the diced poblano peppers, jalapeños, and mild green chilies.

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Add the oregano, cumin, green chili powder, and salt to taste. Stir in the chicken broth and diced tomatoes.  Drain and rinse the beans and hominy and add to the kettle.

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Bring the chili to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes.

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Allow the chili to cool down and refrigerate overnight.

On the second day slowly heat the chili over medium heat. Chop the cilantro and stir into the chili.

Serve with fresh grated pepper jack cheese, thinly sliced green onions, and a little sour cream. Chili goes great with a nice slice of buttermilk cornbread. Cornbread recipe was previously blogged.

Thanks to all the folks at the chili Cookoff today who voted for my Santa Fe Green Chili!  You gave me a brief moment of fame, a cookbook and a great apron!

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Split Pea Soup

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Split pea soup is something you either really like or you want no part of. It’s a soup I really like. I usually make mine with pork hocks but have made it with a ham bone. I remember my mother making pea soup and it remains one of my dad’s favorites. I’ve ordered pea soup in restaurants and been disappointed…either the soup is so thick you can eat it with a fork or watered down and tasteless. I also like mine with croutons or a slice of good bread. I’ve never been a soup and crackers person and especially am not a crackers in my soup person. Split pea soup. It’s what was for dinner tonight.

Ingredients

Pork hock or ham bone

8 cups water

16 oz package split green peas (sorted and rinsed well)

3-4 cloves of garlic minced

1 large onion diced

3-4 carrots peeled and diced

2-3 stalks of celery diced

1/2 sweet red pepper diced

4-5 small gold potatoes diced

3 cups diced tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

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In a large heavy kettle put your pork hock (or ham bone) and water over high heat and bring to a boil. Once it starts to boil turn heat down to low and simmer for about 2 hours. Add the split peas and minced garlic and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the hock to a platter and add all of the diced vegetables.

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I had orange, purple and yellow carrots so I used one of each. But ordinary orange carrots would be fine.

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Remove the meat from the bone. My organic farm has awesome, meaty pork hocks.

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Stir the meat and the tomatoes into the soup and continue to simmer for 30 minutes until all of the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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I made some croutons for our soup with some day or two old sour dough bread that I had. I lightly buttered a few slices, sprinkled on a little garlic salt, and grated a little Parmesan cheese on top.

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Cube and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the croutons in the oven another 15-20 minutes.

Ladle some soup into a bowl and enjoy.

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This soup is like many soups that taste better the second day. This soup will also thicken up. If it becomes too thick thin it out with a little chicken or vegetable broth.

Potato and Corn Chowder with Ham

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Soups are a favorite of mine to make and to eat especially as the weather starts getting cold.   I had ham left over from last night and not a lot of time so this was a perfect soup to make. One of my favorite soups since childhood contained many of the same ingredients as my potato chowder but instead of ham it had fish. We called it “kala mojakka” (Finnish for fish soup).  Sometimes the only parts of the fish the soup contained were the heads but they gave the best flavor to the broth. This from the days when nothing edible went to waste. To me, any soup was “mojakka”. My grandmother made it best.

Potato and Corn Chowder with Ham. It’s what was for dinner tonight.

2 stalks of celery

2 leeks (white and pale green portion only)

1/2 sweet red or orange bell pepper

1/2 large sweet onion

3-4 cloves of garlic

4 T butter

2 T flour

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups diced potatoes (redskins or Yukon)

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup diced ham

1 cup half and half

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Rough chop onion, celery, pepper and leeks.

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Dice the potatoes and rinse well.  (I prefer not to peel the potatoes.)

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In a Dutch oven or heavy kettle melt the butter and sauté the vegetables (onions, celery, pepper and leeks) over medium heat until they are tender, 5 minutes or so.

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Thin slice the garlic and add to the sautéing  vegetables.

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After adding the garlic sauté another minute.  Add in the flour and stir until incorporated with the vegetables.  Stir in the broth, the diced potatoes, the cayenne pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

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Add corn, diced ham and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in one cup of half and half.

Continue to simmer until thoroughly heated.

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Ladle into bowls. Garnish with a little shredded sharp cheddar cheese and some fresh parsley.

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Enjoy!  I told you it was easy and not very time consuming at all. Once again this is a recipe that can be modified based on personal preference or just based on what you have on hand. The soup is excellent with no meat or you can substitute sausage. Cook the sausage ahead of time and put on paper towel to “degrease.”  Add the sausage near the end of the recipe in place of the ham.

I like to serve this soup with homemade croutons but I had no bread. Crackers had to do tonight. I have two bowls of leftover soup. It’s what will be for lunch tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I can make some good bread to go with it. Maybe.