Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Potato-Sausage-Bean Soup with Caraway and Horseradish

By now, dear readers, you can tell the kind of weather we are having here in normally-warm, sunny North Carolina by the many soup recipes I have been posting (and here is yet another!).

We are having unusual, cool, foggy mornings. Wonderful! Damp, rainy, dark afternoons followed by cool evenings. Wonderful! To my friends, I define this forecast as "Michigan weather." They chuckle. And do not approve. Some even call it "depressing."

But ... this weather forces me to wax nostalgic for all things Midwestern. I am not depressed by my roots. Instead, I am inspired. And, in this recipe, the flavorful roots go all the way back to Russia and Lithuania ...

... In particular, the humble potato. Lately, I'm stuck on potato-based soups swimming in savory, smoky, creamy broths. These recipes are all about the out-of-doors and campfires -- without the camping. Indoor hearths with amber embers. Never mind stoves worth thousands of dollars ...

Here, I use store-bought Polish Kielbasa and seasoned butter beans. Oh, seasoned butter beans, where have you been all my life? Yes, I admit it. Sometimes I open a tin ... and eat them cold right out of the can. Am I a hobo? Perhaps. But who could not love that word: HOBO.? A poem in and of itself. And, so, I call them HOBO beans in honor of that glorious class of Americans who rode the rails in the 1930's. Think Pete Seeger ... 

I'm not sure if seasoned, butter beans are a Southern phenomenon. I hope not, for all the world deserves these little gems. Each soft bean tastes like the best ham-and-bean soup you've ever savored. If you do not have access, use cannelloni beans. But do not omit the tiny bit of caraway seed, horseradish or smoked cheddar. Feel free to sub the spinach for kale or escarole.

  • 8 oz. or 1 3/4 cup "onion base" a combination of leek, shallot, yellow onion
  • 8 oz. or 2.5-3 cups rough-chopped white button mushrooms
  • 14-16 oz. skinned, chopped, Russet potatoes, about 2 cups
  • 10-12 oz. smoked sausage, about 1 1/2 cups, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Red pepper flakes ... a pinch or two
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can chicken stock, reduced salt
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can beef stock, reduced salt
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup dry, white wine
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can seasoned butter beans, drained
  • 2-3 handfulls chopped greens, such as spinach, kale, escarole ...
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed dry thyme leaves
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed, crushed
  • 1, 5 ounce-can evaporated milk
  • 1/2  cup lightly packed shredded, smoked cheddar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Refrigerated, fresh horseradish
  • Sour cream
  • Additional smoked sausage for garnish

In a dutch oven or soup pot, add your onion mixture and mushrooms with a bit of olive oil and sweat over medium heat just until soft. Remove from pan.

Put a bit more olive oil in the pan. Add diced sausage and fry over medium heat. When the fat begins to render, add the smoked paprika and a bit of red pepper flakes. Add the white wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and beef stocks. Bring to a simmer. Add your onion and mushroom mixture, drained seasoned butter beans, potatoes, thyme, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cover and gently cook for about 15 - 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Remove from heat. Mix in the evaporated milk and smoked cheddar. Stir until cheese melts. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the lesser amount of caraway. Stir. Taste again and re-season if necessary. Add the chopped greens. Mix through and place back on low heat until greens are wilted.

To serve, thinly slice a few pieces of sausage to arrange on top. Place a teaspoon of horseradish in the center and a dollop of sour cream. Shave a bit more cheese on top. Enjoy. 

The second day, I reheated a bowl and made a Muenster cheese-and-ham grilled sandwich. I snipped
a bit fresh chives, too.

To slice your potatoes: first, slice lengthwise in half. Slice each half lengthwise again into three strips. Then cut into chunks crosswise.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My New Poem ...

A memory: I'm a high-school teacher in a small, rural Midwestern town. One unusually warm, spring day I decide to wear my Birkenstocks to school--the sandals that caused a scandal. Oh, my! About a week or so later a student in my World Literature/College Prep class proudly walked in ... in her new Birks! I can still see the smile on her face .... Her name was Amie. She is now a proud teacher in that same rural town with a very loving family.

In June, she posted a picture of her summer laundry. Get a load of that Cadillac-clothesline ... One thing I hate about living in an apartment ... is that I don't have a clothesline ... 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autumnal Snack Ideas

I always get excited when pumpkins and gourds appear at markets. Autumn is my favorite season. It should remind us of the rich harvest and heritage of this planet. Its bounty. No one should ever be hungry. Ever. Politics starves us all.

It was a slow day at work the other day, so I made these little gems from left-over Clementines that serve as the mini pumpkin with a celery stem.

I feed the "dumpster kittens" that live behind the store. I feed them bits of cheese to lure them closer ... closer ... closer. Colby Jack was on sale, so I used that ... and as soon as I cut into it, I knew what I had to do --- candy corn! This little tray of goodies brought lots of smiles from customers' faces. I just wish they knew the plight of those poor kittens ... and so many other hungry Americans ... 

On a lighter note ... Don't forget my ever-popular Witch Fingers! More ideas to follow in the coming weeks leading up to Halloween.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Potato and Italian Sausage Soup with Leek, Mushroom and Escarole

My comrades at work said I could sell this! 'Nough said. Sometimes, I surprise even myself ... 

Soups are economical, nourishing and easy to prepare. A large, hot bowl of soup is a meal in itself served with a nice salad, crusty bread and beverage. This soup is so redolent with flavors, it's difficult to know where to begin. Leeks, pancetta, sausage combine to make a great base. To improve that base flavor, I added beef stock to the chicken stock to make it a bit more robust. The smoky, spicy, earthy chipotle powder with the cheese put this soup over the top. And, then of course, the comforting soft potatoes.

I recommend the pancetta instead of regular bacon. Most supermarkets sell it already chopped in a small package. Spinach would also work well in place of the escarole.

  • 10-12 ounces bulk sweet Italian sausage or about 3 links
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped russet potatoes
  • 1 cup chopped leeks, white part only (about one large)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped mushrooms
  • 2 cups chopped escarole or kale (I prefer the escarole)
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon Italian spices
  • 2 cups reduced salt, canned chicken stock
  • 1.5 cups reduced salt, canned beef stock
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, cream, half-and-half or evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pancetta
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked chipotle powder, divided
  • Smoked cheddar cheese
  • Croutons
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and peel potatoes. Slice lengthwise. Slice each half again, lengthwise. Chop into random cubes/chunks. Set aside.

Slice escarole down the center and chop until you have two cups. Set aside. Cut leek down the center. If dirty, rinse under water. Slice. Set aside. Chop mushrooms, set aside.

If using sausage links, remove from the casings. Add just a bit of olive oil to a soup pot. Add sausage and brown until done. Remove to a plate.

In the same pan, add just a bit of more olive oil. Add the pancetta. Once it begins to cook, add the leeks and mushrooms. Cook until softened, 5-8 minutes. Add a bit of the chicken stock to deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. And remaining chicken stock, beef stock and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and add half of the smoked chipotle powder, all the Italian seasonings, about 10 grinds of fresh black pepper and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir. Taste.

Add the potatoes. Bring back to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cooked sausage. Stir. Taste and re-season as necessary, adding the remaining smoked chipotle powder if desired and more salt and pepper if warranted.

Add the chopped escarole and stir until wiltet. Now, off the heat so it does not curdle, add the cream or evaporated milk. Using a fork, mash some of the potatoes against the side of the pan which will thicken the soup a bit.

Cover, return to a low heat and simmer for about five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest 10-15 minutes so flavors meld. Ladle into bowls. Top with croutons and several grates of the smoked cheddar. Chives also make a nice garnish.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Easy, Savory Beef Soup with Mushrooms, Potatoes, Leeks and Thyme

Oh, this hit the spot on a cool, overcast day!

This recipe really began with the bowl my big sister gave me as an early birthday gift. I wanted something earthy, delicious, and visually appealing to fill it. This recipe fit all those criteria. Warm. Filling. Savory. With autumn just over the horizon, shorter days, cooler evenings, this hit the spot. 

There is nothing more classic than the combination of beef, leeks, and thyme. Add a bit of shaved Gruyere ... seasoned croutons ... and you have a soup worthy of any five-star restaurant.

And, it was so easy. Done in less than one hour. The ingredients of a good recipe linger on the palate. And lure you back for second helpings. Enjoy.

  • 1 good cup chopped leeks, white part only
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms (I used plain old white button mushrooms)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup unpeeled, roughly-cut red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (a bit more if using fresh)*
  • 1.5 cups beef stock plus more if needed (I used Swanson, low-sodium**)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Seasoned croutons (I used Pepperidge Farm seasoned herb cube-cut stuffing mix)
  • Gruyere cheese, grated

In a medium/large saucepan, drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Add the leeks and mushrooms and celery. Sweat for about 5-8 minutes over medium heat. The mixture will have reduced by about half as it cooks down.

Add the thyme and garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes. Mix in potatoes. Grind in pepper to taste and the salt. 

Add the beef stock and water. Stir to combine. Add the Worcestershire. Mix. Bring just to boil. Reduce heat and simmer a good 20 minutes until potatoes are tender and still hold their shape. About half-way through, add the butter which will give a richness and gloss and taste for seasonings. Add more stock/water if warranted.

When done, using a fork, mash some of the potatoes against the side on the pan to thicken the soup a bit.

Ladle into bowls. Top with seasoned croutons and cheese. Mozzarella would also work well, as well as any good Swiss. 

*When I have leftover fresh thyme I buy at the grocery store, I simply store it in the fridge, a bit opened. It will naturally "dry out." That is what I used for this recipe. If using dried thyme leaves, go easy at first, since it's a bit stronger. If using fresh, you may need a bit more. Season and taste as you go. 

**I find Swanson beef broth a bit strong, so I always water it down. My favorite is Pacific, in which case I probably would have used most full strength. This is why it is important to season and taste as you go.