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Friday, January 14, 2011

Snow Day.... Dinner

Day number 5 of not being able to drive out of my neighborhood. I probably can't even get out of my driveway. I believe I have the only driveway that is completely shaded. Roads and sunny areas finally melting. Being that I always have plenty of food in my pantry and freezer, I was wondering what to make for dinner last night. It was chilly in the house, and I "caved in " and turned up the thermostat a notch. Looking for something a little different, yet warming, I started looking in the pantry and freezer. I saw chopped spinach, bacon and chicken broth. I reached for the bacon and chicken broth and left the spinach for another day. I always keep bacon in the freezer as I'm not much of a traditional breakfast person (I rarely eat breakfast....although I have been enjoying the blueberry muffins I made the other day I have been eating at "brunch" time). Bacon and broth in hand, I headed to the pantry. Onions and potatoes in the pantry... Yes, I was feeling the warming comfort of soup.

I thawed the bacon quickly in the microwave, diced the pieces, then fried slowly until light brown. To the bacon drippings, I added one large chopped onion and black pepper and let it cook at very, very low heat. Now it was starting to smell really good. I was warming up already! After the onion was cooked until tender, I added 6 cups chicken broth (boxed or canned will work just fine, but homemade broth is so easy to prepare...and good too). I was pleased with this so far, then I spied the potatoes in the pantry. I cut several small potatoes to equal about 3 cups of 1 inch cubes. I put the potatoes into the chicken broth and cooked until tender. Although, I like to used dried beans, I always keep several cans of beans in my pantry when I want something in a hurry. Two cans of great northern beans seemed to fit the bill. I drained some of the liquid out of the can then poured them into the broth. Next, I looked to my spice cabinet to choose some herbs. I wanted it simple so I chose thyme. Why thyme? I don't know, but I had it in my head when I opened the pantry. Beans, thyme, onion, bacon were working for me then I spied it. Yes, the bottle that would definitely give me warmth....CAYENNE PEPPER!! Now, I go pretty easy on the cayenne pepper, but you may add as much/little/or none if you like. I probably only added about 1/4 a tsp of cayenne pepper. To my sons, 1/4 tsp is nothing. They like their food peppery hot!!

I let the soup cook a little more, then mashed about 1/2 cup of the potatoes with a fork and added them back to the soup. It's a trick my mom used to do to thicken the tomato sauce when she cooked squash and potatoes. Works like a charm. What's soup if it doesn't have a thick broth? After about 1 hour, the soup is ready to eat and enjoy. When I was getting a drink out of the refrigerator, the red and green bottle of Tabasco sauce seemed to magically jump to my hand (I keep a refrigerator shelf for my sons with all of their Tabasco, hot sauce, habanero sauces so they can be easily found by them.... you know the old adage that many people can't find a thing in the fridge unless it's right up front). A nice huge bowl of warming soup. I actually ate two huge bowls of soup it was so good. I could have actually eaten three bowls I was so darn impressed with the flavor, but a friend of mine wanted to play some on line chess, so I stopped at two. Plus, I don't want to embarrass even myself by eating 3 bowls of soup!! A nice green salad would be a nice accompaniment to the soup, but I settled for some hearty bread slices.

Bean and Bacon Soup
2 16 oz cans great northern beans
6-8 slices bacon (I like the thick cut)
6 cups chicken broth
1 large onion, chopped roughly (It's a rustic soup...)
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cayenne pepper (more if desired)
3 cups cubed potatoes (russet)
Tabasco sauce (as needed)

As I was eating the soup, I was thinking that I could be easily made with a "Mexican" flair by adding pinto beans, jalapeño peppers, cumin, and cilantro.... I'll try that next time! It's really a soup that can be made with many variations. During our rare snow days, you use what is in the pantry. No potatoes? Use rice or orzo. Let me know what you added to your soup!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day!!

Two words that bring joy to every child's heart... (and some adults too!) "SNOW DAY". This is especially true in the south where we don't get snow that often. Well, we are now on our 3rd snow day and I'm loving every minute of it!! Six inches of snow were measured on my deck and I would swear that there had to be even more!! So beautiful to watch, so peaceful and calming.

There are certain foods that you have to have on a snow day. The first and most important would probably be something hot to drink!! When I was visiting Germany and Austria in the dead of winter many years ago, I learned to drink plenty of hot coffee, tea, lemonade, wine, and of course the terrific cocoa in Vienna. After venturing on a walk in the woods for a snow "photo shoot", I was quite chilly when I came home. Nothing to warm one better than a nice mug of hot cocoa sitting by a roaring fire!

I will admit that I am a cocoa "snob". If I see a cocoa that I've never seen, I will purchase it. If it's in a tin that's even better (I still have an old Hershey cocoa tin in my attic). I used to have a big collection of cookie and cocoa tins in my kitchen, but they have made their way to the attic as I have changed my decor. I always make my cocoa homemade (never, never, never will I use the little packets that you "just add water")

The recipe is very easy... this works for me most times. I fill my favorite coffee mug with milk, pour that into a pot and add 1 heaping tsp sugar, and 1 heaping teaspoon cocoa to the mug. I add enough milk to make the mixture smooth. I heat the milk in the pan until it just starts to simmer. Keep a watch on it as when milk boils, it boils all at the same time. It will be to the top of your pot before you know it!! I also found some huge roasting marshmallows at the grocery store that are the biggest I've ever seen. I sometimes add one of those to the milk and let it melt in the mixture. I add a touch of vanilla (probably 1/4 tsp) and a tiny pinch of salt. Pour hot milk into mug, stir and enjoy. Even with all of that sugar, I will even top it off with some whipped cream!! Needless to say, this cocoa is meant to be savored like a fine wine! (grin)

Variations to enjoying your hot cocoa:

1. Stir with a peppermint stick for a festive touch

2. Put a stick of cinnamon and a whole clove in the milk when it heats for a spicy drink. I've even heard of putting a touch of cayenne pepper in the drink, but I've not been bold enough to try that!!

We all have our favorite cups for cocoa. My oldest son, who is 22, has a Tazmanian Devil mug that he has had since he was a young boy!! Many cups of cocoa have been sipped from that mug. My personal favorites are any of my "Paris" mugs which remind me of my wonderful days spent in that city!

Next post: favorite snow day lunch and dinner!!


Ingredients I must have in my kitchen (It's a long list, but I try and have these items on hand)

  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Cheese
  • Cumin
  • Curry
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresh Bread
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Greek Oregano
  • Kalamata Olives
  • Lemon ( At least 3 or 4 ALWAYS)
  • Peppers (Wax, Jalapeno, banana)
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Regular Olive Oil
  • Rice
  • Salad Ingredients
  • Sea Salt
  • Spanish Olives
  • White Balsamic Vinegar