Saturday, April 19, 2014

Light Yet Substantial Vegetable and Ham Soup

It’s a rainy Saturday in Seattle (almost a cliché, though inaccurate as both New York City and Chicago both have more rain than we do). After being away for 3 weeks, emptying and turning off the refrigerator, we’ve been rebuilding its contents from scratch. I can’t believe how efficient I’ve become with cooking. The freezer is so organized and because I can clearly see what’s there, I’m actually using the items.

Cooking is now a creative activity for me for me.  I could never have believed it earlier in my adult life. Today I knew I had a chunk of Trader Joe’s carnitas, there were a couple stalks of celery, some mushrooms, some bacon, most of a sweet onion, some baby carrots, fresh garlic and a partial carton of beef broth let over from last nights pot pies. I’ve been learning to use and enjoy the herb thyme lately due to its use in a pot pie recipe I’m fond of.

A light soup sounded just right for the day. I put a couple pieces of thick sliced bacon on to fry in my trusty, can’t-live-without, Faberware stainless steel electric frying pan.  I then did what Madher Jeffery, the noted Indian cookbook writer, implores - I focused completely on each task I was moving throughI carefully sliced the onion and celery into almost perfect ¼ inch chop. Then I very thinly sliced each baby carrot piece and mushroom.  For the two large garlic cloves, I sliced them thin then chopped them by cutting the other way across the slices. Then I turned to the carnita chunks dispatching them into ¼” chop.  Each item had its own pile on the cutting board. The thyme nearby with the opened cans of diced tomatoes and lima beans, I was ready. The soup came out light and delicious. I've had two bowls.
I used to be afraid of or at least intimidated  by concocting dishes, it certainly would not have been relaxing. Now it feels like indulging in art or crafting. Learning how to cook Indian cuisine and practicing often has helped me to gain confidence with herbs and spices and how to prepare the ingredients so they come together nicely.  The steps below might be second nature for good cooks but for me they are things I wouldn't have done before.  I often felt frustrated, even overwhelmed  by cooking and certainly never tried anything without a recipe.
  • Frying a small amount of bacon and using it's grease for flavor in frying the vegetables softening them for the soup.
  • Unleashing the fragrance of the herb used by frying it for a bit in the vegetables.
  • Preparing all the ingredients ahead so they are smoothly and easily added when their time comes.
Light and Tasty Vegetable Soup with Ham

Yum, a substantial but light soup heavy on the vegetables but meaty enough for dedicated meat eaters.

2 pieces of bacon, fried and crumbled

A good sized handful (about 1 cup) of ¼’ chopped carnitias ((or other left-over meat)

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

5 baby carrots, sliced thin

½ can lima beans (just beans)

½ can diced tomatoes (just tomatoes)

3 cups beef broth. (Could use more)

Two good pinches dried thyme


Put the bacon on to fry. Chop up meat, onion, celery and thinly slice the carrots and the mushrooms. When the bacon is done, remove it and, when cool enough, crumble it. Leave the bacon grease in the pan. Add more cooking oil if needed. Fry onion , celery and carrots until they begin to soften. Add mushrooms, garlic, and carnitas and crumbled up bacon. Sprinkle with the thyme and fry to open the fragrance of the thyme. Spoon in the tomatoes and lima beans and pour in the beef broth.  Let simmer on very low heat for ½ hour.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Memory of Mexican Food And A Delicious Twist on Enchiladas

I once lived in Rawlins, Wyoming. The town had a large population of folks of Hispanic heritage and, to my dismay, the town was rather split into two areas one populated more by Caucasians, the other by Hispanics. Coming from the Northwest, I had never encountered such an obvious cultural split. I ended up living in the more Hispanic part of town. While there, I made a friend, Gloria Mendoza. Gloria had grown up in Mexico and began sharing some of her traditional recipes with me. Some Sunday's she would drop by with warm, freshly made corn tortillas. I was insecure about cooking then. Though I did attempt refried beans from scratch made with lard and learned to make pans of tasty enchiladas, I wish I had taken the opportunity more seriously. I did carry with me some of her recipes and treasure them as mementos of an interesting moment and person in my life. I hope Gloria's life has gone well.

Today, we enjoy Mexican food. Mostly when we go out for it, it's the more Americanized Mexican dishes of restaurants like Azteca. We do, though, enjoy the more traditional tacos and beans from the food trucks around town. I especially like the lengua tacos (made with tongue) I have a lingering appreciation of the meat from my family's unique treat of pickled tongue. Once in a while my husband would order a dozen fresh tamales from Lupe's Tienda, a Mexican grocery in Seattle. He fell in love with Trader Joe's Enchilada sauce and would munch on his tamales even for breakfast.

I haven't made enchiladas too often since living in Rawlins, and I've never made them without using a tomato based enchilada sauce. And, I don't believe I've ever made them without using hamburger for the filling. Those I've made have been tasty and, as of late, Trader Joe's Enchilada sauce has worked well and has become the new sauce basis of enchiladas made. Looking over enchilada recipes online, though, got me thinking differently about the dish.

Recently, while going through my pantry , I realized that I had several 4 oz. cans of diced green chiles. I also had an unopened package of flour tortillas. I made a trip to Trader Joe's, not for their enchilada sauce but for their Carnitas, delicious precooked and seasoned chunks of pork. The following recipe is an amalgam of several recipes I looked over with my own twist added. Delicious enchiladas, no tomatoes involved.

 Enchiladas With A Sour Cream and Green Chile Sauce

A couple handfuls of Carnitas  chopped into 1/2" chunks and lightly heated in some butter chopping up a bit more (you could use chicken meat, beef or hamburger or just cheese and onion
Butter for frying
1/2 small onion chopped small
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1-4 oz. can diced green chiles (If you haven't used these before they are not spicy.)
1 14 oz. can chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream
5 flour tortillas

Chop the meat and in a frying pan, heat the chunks a bit in butter chopping them up a bit more. Place in a large bowl. Add chopped onion and cheese. Mix together for the filling.

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in the pan used to heat the meat. Stir in the flour and mix well as a roux. Add the green chiles and chicken broth. Let this simmer until it cooks down a bit and begins to thicken like a gravy. Turn it off and incorporate the sour cream.

Fill 5 flour tortillas with the meat/onion/cheese filling rolling them in an 8x8" baking pan. Top with the sauce. Place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. (I used a toaster oven). 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Crockpot Ham & Chicken Soup

I love the idea of cooking a whole chicken in a crock pot. Whenever I see whole Foster Farms chickens on sale for a dollar a pound or lower I buy one and cook it up. We usually enjoy some cold chicken with butter and Best Foods Mayo on white bread sandwiches. I often freeze some of the meat for future tacos, soup or other dishes. This time we had a couple sandwiches, I made a great soup and have a little chicken left to freeze for later.

If like chicken and you've never cooked a whole chicken in a crock pot, DO IT, do it soon.

Remove the giblets, wash the chicken and season as desired. (I used Johnny’s Seasoning Salt) Place in the pot breast up with no liquid. Cook on low for 6 hours. It even browns. (Poultry is done at 165 degrees) It will be plenty done.
Remove the meat and bones

Degrease the broth (I use a tray of ice cubes, the grease solidifies against the cubes which can be lifted out)
This time I left all the chicken broth in the pot and made a delicious soup with the help of ideas from my husband.

Crock pot Ham and Chicken Soup


Add to the chicken broth
1 cup of Bloody Mary Mix

1 14.5 oz. can of beef broth

1 14.5 oz. can of Great Northern Beans with liquid
1 meaty ham hock


Turn Crock pot on high and let this simmer until the ham hock starts to break down.
Add some chicken meat (I added a large handful.)

Add a second can of Great Northern beans, drained.
Add salt and pepper as desired (I added none)

Let it simmer a bit and enjoy

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Ravioli Dinner

When my neighbor moved to Hawaii, I became the owner of some sundries remaining in her pantry. I've been waiting for a time to celebrate a partial box of La Piana Ravioli with squash filling. They were 1/2-inch square dried raviolis which I figured at $10 for a 1 lb. box (the tag was still on) had to be special.

Husband arrived home last night with two very large meatballs from a deli and some crusty French rolls. Ah ha, we had some fresh mushrooms in the fridge. I work to stay stocked with sweet onions, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. I often have fresh garlic but always have a jar of chopped on hand in the fridge. Due to a meeting I attended that ended with 1/2 bottle of red wine unfinished, I was ready to go.

I know this post may only be exciting for me and pretty mundane for any accomplished cooks but the dish I concocted turned out delicious. My discriminating husband is even eating more for breakfast.
Except for boiling the pasta, I threw it together in my handy dandy Faberware stainless steel electric frying pan. Any pasta would have been fine but the ravioli created a gourmet treat. And, if you use fresh ready-made pasta now commonly available, the dish is really fast and easy.
 Ravioli and Meatballs 
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1 large teaspoon chopped garlic
5 mushrooms sliced
1+ tablespoon for frying onion, garlic and mushrooms
Big pinch basil
Big pinch oregano
Several shakes Johnny's Seasoning Salt
Several shakes of black pepper
1 - 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 - 8oz can tomato sauce
About 1/2+ cup red wine
3/4 cup dried ravioli (I used La Piana brand squash-filled dried ravioli). You could use fresh ravioli. And, Northwest dwellers, if you haven't tried Puget Sound Consumer Coop's fresh mushroom ravioli, it's delicious.
2 large deli meatballs cut into quarters (or amt. of choice)
Boil the ravioli in salted water if using dry pasta.
Sautee onion, garlic and mushrooms. Stir in basil, oregano, seasoning salt and pepper. Add wine and cook down a bit.
Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, ravioli and meatballs. Let it simmer on lower heat. Server with green salad and French bread slathered with butter.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Beyond T Bone

My husband cooked dinner tonight. He pulled off another of his brilliant meals, so many of which I've enjoyed over the years.

He began with a beautiful T Bone steak which would have been delicious with no addition. He took it to another level, though, lightly marinating it in a mixture of Sesame Ginger Dressing and Siracha hot sauce for a little tang. He broiled it to a perfect medium rare, cut it into chunks, then, as an interesting garnish, sprinkled it with small chunks of fresh mango. The side of Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing served with it for dipping was amazing.

His side dish - Baby Yukon Gold potatoes, Brussels sprouts, white mushrooms all cut in half and mixed with Mango Ginger Chutney then broiled to perfection.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Simple and Tasty Pot Pies

My husband had the food channel on. The show on was one I don't particularly favor, the one with Giada, (it's something about how she speaks perfect English then pronounces Parmigiana, with a heavy Italian accent, lol, how picky am I?) Anyway, she was making individual pot pies and raving about how simple they are to make. We love pot pies but, to admit, I've never had one other than frozen. I've stopped buying them too often, given all the sodium, et al.

So, as Giada went on, I took note. They did seem fairly easy and could cut down on the meat used or help use up leftover meat in a tasty way. My husband is not a fan of casseroles but he likes pot pies (I don't ask). One reason I tuned in was that I happened to have quite a bit of left over T-bone steak in the refrigerator (having something to do with my husband's brain's meat receptors going crazy while he stands in a meat department, any meat department.) And, I had bacon on hand.

I'm comfortable enough cooking now to get her basic idea and create it. I've made the T-bone steak pot pie and a chicken pot pie and both were soooo tasty. And, I'm now smart enough to know that having the right cooking utensils makes cooking adventures more successful and pleasant. Before making the first pies I stopped by Value Village (hey why not?) There sat two perfect little white ceramic baking tureens molded with ceramic handles. They were the perfect size for using one round of prepared pie crust and they were from Sur la table!

Simple and Tasty Pot Pies

What makes this a successful and regularly used recipe for me is having purchased the perfect sized individual baking dishes. One box of two prepared pie dough rounds makes 4 pies.


4 slices bacon, fried (ideal for flavor but can be omitted)

3 Tablespoon Bacon grease (If you omit the bacon use butter here)

¼ small onion  or part of a large leek, or a shallot, chopped

¼ large carrot sliced into very thin rounds

2 big pinches dried thyme

Seasoning salt, (I use Johnny’s Seasoning Salt) to taste

4 tablespoons flour

1 can broth, chicken, beef depending on meat used

½ cup or more cream (I use unwhipped whip cream)

½ cup frozen peas, thawed

½ cup frozen corn, thawed

3 Chicken tenders fried up with some seasoning salt or left over chicken, beef or pork chopped up.


Fry bacon, remove from pan retaining the bacon grease needed

Add chopped onion,  and carrots (sometimes I add a bit of thinly sliced celery) to pan and brown.

Sprinkle the thyme and stir in.

Add flour mixing to make a roux,

Add can of broth and simmer until thickened.

Add cream, chopped meat including a couple pieces of bacon (you’ve probably eaten the other two while you’ve cooked), and thawed peas and corn, stir together.

Add seasoning salt to taste.

Line two small baking dishes with pie dough. (I bought two perfect sized pot pie baking dishes. One round of store bought prepared pie dough lines and tops the two dishes.)  Add the filling to the dish and top with dough.

Bake at 400 degrees for about ½ hour until crust is done (I use the toaster oven).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Winter Dockside Adventures

For several years my husband and I lived three days a week, every week summer and winter, onboard our sailboat at Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes. By the time we completed the ninety-minute drive from the city, we had both physically and mentally shed the stresses of our work-a-day world. The weekly time onboard broke us out of any suburban rut we might have gotten in to. It stimulated our creativity, brought us closer, (one TV channel will do that.) It introduced us to a different group of people and inspired us to new adventures.
We never took the boat out much in the fall and winter and observed a quieting, literally an emptying, of “the dockside neighborhood.”  “They don’t know what they are missing,” we would observe as we walked past boat after boat sitting empty and un-enjoyed throughout the colder months. It was like we had discovered a secret hideaway and stress cure.
We didn’t live in luxury. At the time we owned an older, 45’ ketch bought to see if living aboard and offshore cruising was for us. We used the marina facilities for showering, heated the boat with an electric space heater, and learned a lot about leaks. (From this part-time onboard adventure we learned that we preferred more room, Pacific Northwest cruising and dock dwelling over huge waves, long crossings and water makers. We now live aboard a powerboat in Lake Union.) 

My husband loves to cook and reveled in his hobby. He’d scour the isles at the Safeway in walking distance from the dock, buying ingredients for his culinary creations. Many times he’d cook all day Saturday challenging himself by doing it all in a large, stainless steel wok on the stovetop. No, he rarely cooked stir-fry in it. He would roast a leg of lamb with a pepper jelly, honey sauce, simmer choppinos with unusual ingredients, fix a melt in your mouth marinated chicken, cabbage and potatoes concoction. It was during this time he developed my favorite of his dishes, Oxtail Goulash.
Sunday morning breakfasts were amazing. We had two Grover Washington tapes we played that, to this day, take me back to sitting on deck with a steaming coffee cup in hand looking out over steel gray water with neighboring boats appearing out of the mist and delicious smells wafting from below. I remember his Szechuan Eggs with Black Forest Ham.
I bought a laptop, one of the first in the 1980s with no hard disk. I had the luxury of indulging in my hobby of writing. Not only did I complete the textbook used for our business, I was inspired to begin a freelance writing career writing about the boating lifestyle.
Enjoy a couple of my husband's delicious recipes.
Hank’s Rich, Yummy Oxtail Goulash

Dutch oven or electric frying pan
  • 6 meaty oxtails OR Lamb Shanks OR beef stew meat
  • (we love the richness of the ox tails or lamb shanks)
  • 1 can beef consommé
  • 1 soup can beef broth
  • 1 or 2 cups red wine
  • 1 bottle of Bloody Mary Mix (split) (Mr. T’s is a good brand)
  • 2 cans of Great Northern beans
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion cut into 1/8’s and separated
  • Vegetables of choice. (He’s used: turnip chunks  -  slices of Portobello mushrooms  -  winter squash chunks  -  fresh green beans  -  cauliflower  -  broccoli  -  Crimini mushrooms  -  pea pods,  -  baby carrots  -  Yukon Gold potatoes  -  rutabaga  -  parsnip  -  turnip  -  Brussels sprouts.)

  • Sear meat briefly. With lid on Dutch oven or electric frying pan, boil meat in sauce (consommé, water, 1 cup wine, ½ bottle Bloody Mary Mix) for about 15 or 20 minutes on high.
  • Add vegetables and 1 can Great Northern Beans continue simmering covered at lower temp. until meat comes easily off the bone and vegetables are done. Keep adding the rest of the Bloody Mary mix and more wine, if desired,  as the meat and vegetables cook.
  • Oxtails and lamb shanks are rich and they do have grease. Remove the meat and vegetables when done and add a tray of ice cubes to the sauce to degrease. The grease will cling to the ice cubes for easy removal.
  • Add meat and vegetables back into the sauce with a second can of Great Northern Beans and 2 Tablespoons of butter. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
  • With oxtails, we like the meat left on the bone, but for a dinner party etc. you can remove the meat from the bones and place back in the sauce. It’s an amazingly rich and yummy sauce to serve over noodles, etc.

Hank's Szechuan Eggs

. 1/4 lb. very thinly sliced ham (Black Forest ham is nice)
. 1 cube butter cut in half
. 10 thin slices extra sharp cheese (sliced off brick)
. 8 eggs
. 8 very thin green onions
. 2 Tbs. Szechuan Seasoning
. 2 shakes garlic powder

 . In a bowl, lightly beat 8 eggs.
. Add Szechwan seasoning and garlic powder.
. Cut cheese into thin strips
. Tear or cut ham into wide strips.
. Chop onions including just a bit of green.
. Begin frying onions in 1/4 stick of butter on medium heat.
. Add ham to onions. Fry until ham is heated, a few minutes more on medium heat.
. Melt another quarter of stick of butter into onion ham mixture. Add eggs and cheese.
. Cook on low heat till cheese is melted and mixture starts to firm up.
. Raise heat to medium and cook until done as desired.