Simplest. Soup. Ever.

Potato Ham Chowder 
Suggested Pairing (music to cook by): Remember the Titans Soundtrack (try the Listen to Samples link)

Four ingredients and 40 minutes. Tops.
It tastes like a potato ham au gratin, but in a soup. Perfect cold weather food. Very healthy – I should send it to Paula Deen!
And only FOUR ingredients. Did I mention that already? If you want to get chowdery (yes, that’s a word – now), I’ve suggested a couple more. But trust me, I’ve tried doctoring this up and it isn’t as good – start with the basic recipe before you go tweaking.

Ingredients:

  • splash of olive oil or butter (and by a splash, I mean I use 1-2 Tablespoons)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large potatoes, diced (I use russets)
  • 1 lb. ham steak, diced
  • 32 oz. carton chicken stock
  • 1 C frozen corn (optional)
  • 1/2 C whole milk or Half & Half. Or cream. (optional)           (Skim milk?  It’s like you don’t even know me.)
  • black pepper
  • (If you don’t mind double starches, dinner rolls to go with soup. See below.)

Heat the olive oil/butter, add onion, and cover pot to soften. Dice the potatoes meanwhile.
When onions are translucent, add potatoes and chicken stock.  Be sure the stock covers all the potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are just done.  How long will depend on the size of your dice, so keep checking.
I like to serve this soup with hot rolls and lately I’ve been using Pepperidge Farm Artisan rolls. Heat your oven and bake them now to be ready when the soup is.
Add the chopped ham steak and cook on low/medium until heated through.  Add your frozen corn here too, if using. Add ground pepper. Don’t let it boil now, or you may turn your meat tough.
If you want it really chowdery, add the milk or Half & Half, or even cream if you wish.

Credits: Thanks, um, to my nieces, who pointed out that my kick-off post (Bacon Cornbread Cupcakes) didn’t seem exactly “simple” to them.
But I did get points for bacon in that recipe…

 

These are my people…

Due to a series of fortunate events, I was able to visit Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI. It’s one of those places that gets you excited about food the minute you enter.
Have I mentioned that I’m a fan of really good butter? Just inside the door, I spy this:

Then I was approached by the cheese dude, the cheese guy, the cheese meister, and after describing a couple of cheeses I had enjoyed recently, he gave me a sample of something just as yummy.
I love that. Not that he was doing his job of selling me cheese I’d never heard of, but that he knew his stuff and did his job well.

Next I see this, and know I have come home:

Realizing I was going to be there for a while, I asked if I could set up a tent in the olive oil and vinegar aisle – and the cashier offered to get me a cot. True story.

Inside the locked case above, there rests a $300 bottle of balsamic vinegar. Yes – it’s over the top.
So you and I and 298 of our closest friends should each pitch in a buck and get to lick a spoon dipped in it.  All I really want is to taste
$300 vinegar.

Don’t even get me started on the rugelach. Best I’ve had.

And apparently weird exotic chocolates are regional – in Texas I saw them with chiles, and here they are made with pepperoncini.  To each his own weird exotic chocolate.

 

Please let me know – what store do you leave having happily, giddily spent too much?
I’d like to put together a Map of Food Store Heaven.  I’ll go off and try to figure out how to make an interactive map while I’m waiting to hear from you.

Well done Zingerman’s!

Postscript: I thought of titling this post “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.”  If you know that reference, please write me. We’ll start a club.

Credits: thanks to my brother Stephen for the gift box introducing me to Zingerman’s, and David, who insisted I go there while in Detroit, and Giulia, for actually reading my stuff!

A word about butter.

Butter Dish

And that word is yummy.

Butter does make everything better. Like bacon. And alliteration.

Good butter adds that lovely… (Oh God, was I really about to type “mouth-feel?” Please don’t tell anyone.)  …texture, taste, life-just-got-a-little-bit-better sensation.

Do you ever go into a restaurant and get served a bread basket and a little cup of butter?  If that butter alone makes your eyes roll back in your head and you moan quietly under your breath, that’s the stuff to buy for home. I greatly appreciate any restaurant that gives me great butter – keep the garlic, or honey, or herbs out of it.

Most American-style butters have no flavor to me. I don’t know the reason for the difference, but dang it, if you are going to add the calories that butter provides (and please, by all means – do!), at least make it gooooooood quality butter. I end up using less, because there is so much more flavor to it.

I think we have reached the point where many (most?) large supermarkets carry at least one version of European butter – I often see Plugra. Try it. You’ll like it.
(Your bonus prize for listening to the entire lecture is this:
Paula Deen’s Butter Popsicle)

Leaf Pile

Leaf Pile Holly Cookie Wreath Suggested pairing (music to cook by – sorry no Sample button!): Shrek – Music From the Original Motion Picture I made these cookies for Thanksgiving (because what goes better with pie than cookies?!) – really because they are so much fun to ice. I used my family recipe for the cookies – a little different because of the almond flavor, but my personal favorite. See a Halloween sample here. (Warning – zombies included.) Our family name for the recipe, & for which I have no explanation, is: Little Mirror Cookies Cream together:

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/2  C butter

Mix in:

  • 1 egg yolk (save the white for the icing, below)
  • 2 Tablespoons cream
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Add:

  • 2 C flour

This makes a very stiff dough and a stand mixer is recommended if you can get your hands on one.  If you are going to have a cookie-icing party, I suggest doubling or tripling the recipe. Cover and chill for at least an hour. (The dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen at this point.) Preheat oven to 375.  Roll out thinly, cut, and bake 8-10 minutes. Use this on your baking sheets – it makes life so much easier: reusable parchment paper.  Watch for browning around the edges. Perfectionists take note!  I have been doing this for 30 years, and I never get them rolled out evenly or cut out perfectly: Remember that there is ALWAYS someone who loves the burnt edges. And as my friend Tina says, “It’s not the Magna Carta!”  (Insert personal perfection reference here – Sistine Chapel, Taj Mahal, Cary Grant…) Icing:

  • 1 egg white, whisked until a little foamy & a little ribbony (I’m sure there’s a technical term for that somewhere)

Whisk in:

  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Gradually whisk in:

  • 3/4 C powdered sugar, sifted

Divide into small bowls or ramekins and mix with food coloring choices. Grocery store color will do in a pinch, but you will be much happier with the results if you go for the good stuff: Wilton Icing Colors Ice thinly. Experiment with spreader knives, toothpicks, craft bottles, to get the look you want. If you paint on a base coat then add another color you can spread it around. If you want a discreet line or design, wait until the base coat has dried completely. (Note – this icing is not very tasty wet – it’s great when it’s dried & part of the cookie – I promise.) Disclaimer: this icing uses raw egg whites. Please use fresh eggs. That said, my family has been using this recipe for many years & I don’t know of a single person that has gotten sick from it. Please don’t be the first one.

Bacon Cornbread Cupcakes with Green Chili Icing and Chive Sprinkles

Suggested Pairing (music to cook by):

Today, by Raul Malo (try the Listen to Samples button)

While watching Cupcake Wars, hiking on the treadmill, and listening to Lady Gaga (don’t judge me!), I couldn’t help but think the cupcakes could be somehow… better.
And how does one make anything better?  ADD BACON!
So to kick off my blog, I’ve invented the following recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces bacon, cooked & chopped
  • 1 C chopped green chilis (roasted Hatch chilis – if you have ’em,
    use ’em), divided. (1/2 C well-drained for cupcakes, the rest for the icing.)
  • 1/2 C butter + extra for pan
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C buttermilk (I’m not sure I could tell the difference if regular milk was used.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 C cornmeal
  • 1 C flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Chives (My store sells a 0.75 oz package – I use half for icing & half for sprinkles.)
  • 6 ounces whipped cream cheese (Or sub regular & thin with milk/cream.)

Suggested tools:
ziploc bag
mini muffin tin
mini food processor

Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 375.
Combine cornmeal, flour, & salt in large mixing bowl.
Melt butter in medium bowl in microwave. Mix sugar into butter, add eggs & beat well.
Whisk baking soda into buttermilk, then mix in to butter mixture.
Pour liquid mixture into dry, stir a couple of times, add bacon & green chilis & stir just until mixed.

Using a mini muffin tin, put a tiny dab of butter into each cup. Place tin in oven for a few minutes to get hot, but be careful not to burn the butter. (I have gotten the butter dark golden brown & used it with no problem.) Remove tin from oven & quickly fill with cornbread batter. If you fill to the top, it will make a high crown & about 24 mini cupcakes. I prefer to fill them halfway so that they are only 2-3 bites big, & I throw the batter that won’t fit in the 24 mini pan into another pan. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until the top of the muffin is firm. Cool.

Icing:

Wash & dry the chives very well. Chop half of them fine. Do not try to skip this step and throw them into the mini food processor, because they will just stick to the sides in strings and say, “Ha! I laugh at your whirling blades!” in a voice that sounds suspiciously like John Cleese doing a bad French accent. Into the food processor, do put the green chilis, lifted out of any liquid, & the finely chopped chives (if using here). Puree. Add a couple big spoonfuls of cream cheese & process. Add all the rest of the cream cheese & process until smooth and yummy. Put into a ziploc bag and refrigerate.

Sprinkles: Take the rest of the chives and chop into
sprinkle-sized pieces.

Before serving, cut a small corner off of the ziploc bag & squeeze icing onto the cupcakes. Sprinkle with chives. Send me feedback!

Credits: I modified this recipe for the cornbread:
Grandmother’s Buttermilk Cornbread
And many thanks to Jeanne & Steve Stearns for hosting their Chile 101 Party (NOT political, but hey there’s an idea…) & all the folks who taste-tested.