Healthy Scraps

Last night I made steamed broccoli as a side dish to the main course.  When I steam vegetables I strive for an even texture throughout the pieces.  This is a challenge when it concerns broccoli because although the florets are fluffy and not very dense the stems are dense and thick.  One solution to the problem is to cut the dense pieces into smaller sizes that will soften at the same rate as the florets.  Another solution is to not include the thick stems at all. 

I chose the latter option, but that didn’t mean I was going to waste perfectly good broccoli. 

I rummaged around the kitchen and searched for vegetables that were on their way out.  Wilted vegetables might lose their visual appeal but they still retain their nutritional value.  I found some green onions that were wilted and a few potatoes that were smaller than the rest. 

I rough cut the vegetables and tossed them into a pot.

I added 2 cups of chicken stock and simmered at low heat, covered, for one hour.

Once the vegetables had sufficiently softened, I poured everything into a blender and pulsed to puree.

I strained out the remaining little pieces of potato skins and was rewarded with a creamy, hearty soup.

Anything can be added to the soup at this point.  Maybe some leftover sausage scraps or some lunch meat that has been relegated to the back of the meat drawer. 

I chose to chop another wilted green onion for the topping and then added some dried Parmesan cheese.  After a few twists from the pepper grinder, the soup was ready to eat.

Creamy Potato and Celery Soup with Ham

Ingredients:

8 small russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

1 Tbs olive oil

1 medium sized onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

6 stalks celery, chopped

1 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour

4 cups vegetable broth

2 cups chicken broth

½ cup half-and-half (whole milk and cream)

1 cup smoked ham, chopped into ½” cubes

5 oz white cheddar cheese, grated

4 green onions, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the diced potatoes.   Boil the potatoes until cooked through and softened.  Strain the potatoes in a colander.

In a large pot over high heat, add olive oil, garlic and onions.  Cook and for a minute or two, until the onions are translucent.

Add the chopped celery stalks and cook for another 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of butter to 2 tablespoons of flour. Mix and mash together with a fork. Add a splash of broth and mix a little more. Add the mixture to the pan. Stir to combine.

Add the vegetable broth and chicken broth.  Stir and bring to boil.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.

Pour the soup into the blender and add the potatoes.  Puree until smooth.  This may need to be done in batches, depending on the capacity of the blender. Return the soup to the pot.

Add the half and half and the ham.  Heat at low temperature for a few minutes while stirring occasionally.

Turn the heat off and add the shredded cheese.  Slowly stir the soup once or twice.  Do not over-stir.  Allow the cheese to melt without much interference.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Top with diced scallions.

Pozole

Nothing warms the soul like a bowl of good, hot soup.  Pozole is much more than just a bowl of hot soup!  Pozole is the heart and soul of family and tradition in Mexico.  It is often served during holidays and special occasions.  It’s a cold remedy during the fall and winter months and it’s the sort of thing contains everything that is good for the body, mind and soul. 

The warmth of the broth is essential.  The heat of the chiles restores drained energy.  The depth of flavor from the vegetables and meat make it a meal by itself.

It’s a strange thing, posting recipes on a food blog.  I prepare food and then I post the recipes and pictures, sometimes right away and sometimes days and days later.  This post is the last in a series of posts from a dinner party that my wife and I hosted nearly two weeks ago.  The memory of the party is still clear in my mind.  Good friends and family gathered around to share stories and we had some laughs and we learned just how much we mean to each other.  The food that I served seems so distant now but the memories of our visit remains fresh, like homemade bread, warm from the oven. 

As with previous posts in the series, I did not capture all of the process with pictures.  The most glaring omission, in my opinion, is that I didn’t take a picture of the finished dish.  Heck, I didn’t even take a picture of the pozole after adding the hominy, which is a real tragedy, since hominy is the key ingredient in pozole.   

The pozole was sort of an afterthought as I planed the meal.  I had already decided to serve green enchiladas and red enchiladas, along with guacamole and Mexican rice.  I thought it would be nice to open with a soup.  Pozole seemed right for the occasion.

Ingredients:

2 lbs pork shoulder

¼ onion (no need to cut)

3 bay leaves

1 tsp coarse salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

4 to 8 guajillo chiles (4 for mild  heat, 8 for caliente!)

1 tomato, diced

1 tsp dried oregano

6 garlic cloves

4 Tbs flour

4 Tbs butter

2 cups vegetable stock

1 large can of hominy (30 ounce can)

Directions:

Cut the pork into large pieces.

Sear the pork in a Dutch oven at high heat for a few minutes.   Stir to lightly brown the meat.

Add water to the Dutch oven to cover the pork by about two inches.  Add the onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper.

Set the heat to low and simmer the pork for two hours.  When the pork is tender enough to shred with a fork, remove to a platter and reserve the liquid.

Steam the guajillo chiles for 20 minutes, until softened.

Puree the chiles, tomato, oregano, garlic and 1 cup of the hominy and 1 cup of vegetable stock in a blender. 

Strain the mixture to remove the seeds and pulp.

Add the butter and flour to the Dutch oven and prepare a roux.  Add the remaining vegetable stock and about 3 cups of the broth from the cooked pork.  Whisk to incorporate the mixture.

Add the pork and pureed vegetable mixture.

Simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the hominy and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Serve in bowls.  Prepare a platter of condiments including sliced iceberg lettuce (or cabbage), cilantro, sliced onion and sliced jalapeño.  Place the platter in the center of the table so that guests may add what they like to their soup.

Creamy Tomato Soup – an homage to Helen Van Wyk

Helen might approach this soup using her painterly style.  What is it the first thing we think of, when we think of creamy tomato soup?  The bold red hue?  The silky smoothness?  The depth of flavors?  Perhaps all of those.  And how will we achieve that goal? 

In my mind, I see Helen approaching this project in phases.  First, establish a suitable foundation and, with that foundation firmly in place, add complexity and vibrancy.  Obviously, the tomatoes will be the foundation.  The tomatoes provide the base color and key flavor.  The onions and carrots will provide an unseen, subtle accent.  The oil and garlic are essential, but they will stay in the background.  The chicken stock adds a new dimension to the rich body of the tomato.  The cream, oh, the cream is the finishing touch that turns this into a masterpiece.  Basil brings the vibrancy with the magician’s trick aimed to appeal to the eyes and palate.  Salt and pepper to taste, because spice is the spice of life!

Let’s begin…

Ingredients:

2 Tbs olive oil

1 1/2 cups onions, chopped

1 carrot, shredded

4 garlic cloves, whole, but mashed

6 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

2 cups chicken stock

1 Tbs salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

3/4 cup heavy cream

a little bit of julienned fresh basil, for garnish

Directions:

Heat a large, stainless steel pot to medium/low heat.  Sauté the onions and carrots for about 10 minutes, or until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for about one minute.  Remove the garlic.  Add the chopped tomatoes, chicken stock and basil.  Bring the soup to a boil and then lower to a simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavors to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cook uncovered for about 30 to 45 minutes, to soften the tomatoes and thicken the soup.  Stir in the cream and simmer for one more minute.  Pour the soup into a blender and puree.  Pour the soup through a strainer and discard the solids.  Pour the soup back into the pot and simmer for another minute or two.  Turn off the heat and ladle the soup into bowls.  Garnish with slender, slivers of basil leaves.

Serve with crackers or grilled cheese sandwiches.