Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Alright kids, I seriously don't know what went wrong. The picture looked so promising:

But the result was so bad:

That one little slice was the only thing eaten by a group of about 8 people. Truth be told, I didn't even want to offer it to them, but they insisted. No one ate more than a crumb, really. I am in no way knocking the recipe at all; it's from one of my favorite food blogs and I trust her entirely. I took a few liberties--none of which seemed immoderate at the time--and the result was bad. You win some, you loose some. This one lost.

If there's anything I've learned from cooking, it's simply to take failures in stride. They happen sometimes, and you just have to live with it. When dessert fails (as it has with me several times: this oh-so-appealing-in-the-picture clementine cake, the cantelope gelato--it was so good in Italy, but so bad here--and others), but whip up something else. If the vegetable ends up gross, just leave it out. Sometimes things are bad, and your guests deserve better than that.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ham and Potato Soup

This soup was another in a long line of "it's freezing outside and I will never be warm again" Christmas break necessities. Like split pea soup calls for a leftover ham bone (this one came from the extended family Christmas party). I've noticed a pattern that when people find out you can cook, they give you all sorts of leftovers figuring you can do miracles with it. I will admit, I've waxed a little creative in my day with a few random leftovers, and this soup was one of them. It's probably not the most creative thing in the world, but it was warm, and it cleared room in the fridge. We didn't have any frozen peas, but throwing in a few right at the end probably would have been amazing. Carrots would probably be good, too.

Ham and Potato Soup

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 ham bone with some meat still attached
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled or not, cut up
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • about 1 heaping tablespoon diced fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • a few tablespoons flour, to thicken if necessary
Heat the water and broth in a large pot, and add the garlic and ham bone. Simmer for 40 minutes to an hour, until the meat starts to get very tender. Add the vegetables, and continue to simmer until soft. Remove the ham bone, and cut off and chop the usable meat. With an immersion blender, pulse the soup a few times to break up some of the potato pieces (you don't want to puree at all, just thicken it a little bit). Add the herbs, salt, pepper, and ham. Heat through, and season to taste. If it needs a little thickening, whisk a few tablespoons of flour in a few tablespoons cold water, then add to the soup and stir until thickened.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eggs Benedict

I remember one time we went to a fancy restaurant for breakfast as a family when I was quite young, and there was eggs benedict on the menu. I was confused. It wasn't Christmas morning, we weren't still in our pajamas at 11:30, and we weren't already half-full from eating cherry chocolates. This wasn't the appropriate time! Didn't they know that eggs benedict were reserved for only one hallowed day a year? Nothing is sacred anymore.

To say that eggs benedict on Christmas morning is traditional in my family is an understatement: it's institutional. It's in our veins. We've experiemented on it a few times, often with questionable results. This is pretty straightforward, but it's good, and it conjures happy emotions and memories of childlike wonder (well, maybe it won't for you, but it sure does for me).

Eggs Benedict

  • High-quality English muffins, split apart
  • Large eggs (as many eggs as muffin halves)
  • Chicken broth, enough to fill a wide, shallow pan for poaching
  • Thickly sliced Canadian bacon (1-2 slices for each muffin half)
  • Hollaindaise sauce (click here for a recipe)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
The trick with eggs benedict is that everything needs to be ready at the same time. It's good to have a different person manning each component so they can all be perfectly timed (or at least that's how we do it in my family).

for the eggs
Bring the chicken broth to a broil in the poaching pan. Reduce heat to let it simmer. Crack the eggs, and gently slip them just under the broth's surface. Poach until the yolk is the desired doneness (usually just a few minutes--watch them closely).

for the English muffins
Place the muffin halves on a cookie sheet and broil them in the oven or broiler until the tops are just golden and slighly crispy, just a few minutes, also. You only want the very top layer to be crispy: the rest should still be soft.

for the Canadian bacon
Heat a skillet or large, flat plan to medium high heat and sear the edges of the ham. It's usually already cooked, so you don't have to worry about cooking it thoroughly--just heat it and give it some texture.

for the Hollaindiase sauce
Whether you're making it from scratch or a mix, do prepare it to be the last thing completed--right at the moment when you assemble and serve.

Assemble them by placing the bacon atop the muffin, then the poached egg, then the hollaindaise sauce. Enjoy, then wait until Christmas next year to enjoy again.

Southwestern Chicken Tortilla Soup

This soup was born of necessity on a cold winter day. I love chicken soup--I believe it heals what ails you--but it can get just a little on the bland and boring side. A few little twists give it a nice little kick. Also, this was an opportunity to try out a great little trick suggested by Sara Foster who suggested simply using sliced tortillas boiled for a few minutes to make dumplings. It works perfectly. I use about half broth and half water for the liquid, because I don't really like it strong: I like to be able to taste the vegetables and seasonings, so you can adjust the ratios of broth to water however you'd like. A word of explanation: I originally started making chicken noodle soup, so the picture has carrots and celery in it, which weren't bad, but I probably wouldn't suggest them in this version of the soup.

Southwestern Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • About 2 - 3 cups chicken broth
  • About 2 - 3 cups water
  • 1 large uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon diced green chilies
  • about 1/2 cup corn
  • 1 large flour tortilla, cut into strips
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely diced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • shredded cheese, to top
Bring the broth and water to a boil in a large pot, add the chicken, onion, and chilies and simmer until the chicken is cooked. Shred the chicken breast, and add back to the broth. Add the corn and the tortilla strips. Allow it to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the strips plump up. Add the tomato, avocado, and cilantro. Stir and allow it to heat through. You don't want to cook these last additions--just heat them. Season to taste, then ladle into bowls and serve with shredded cheese.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hollandaise Sauce

My family is a family of traditional foods: clam chowder on Christmas Eve, grape sherbet on Memorial Day, prime rib on New Years, pecan pie on Dad's birthday, Grandma's rolls any- and all the time, and eggs benedict on Christmas morning. I love tradition, but I am all for spicing it up a little every now and again. And in all honesty, I didn't even think it that big a stretch when I declared that I would be making the hollandaise sauce from scratch this year. I thought people would enjoy the nice touch, seeing as how every other year of my congniscent life we have simply reconstituted yellow powder. No, they were not happy. Some members of my family have stricter definitions of "tradition" than do it. I was accused of trying to ruin Christmas, insult 30 years of family tradition, and give salmonella to my pregnant sister. Then comes the ringer, "I have waitied a full year for eggs benedict, and if you ruin them, I will be furious!" I was a little taken aback. I mean, come on! Homemade is always better than powder because there's extra love in it, right? That's what I figured.

Conclusion. It was good: substantially zingier than the powdered stuff, and the family was happy. Christmas was not ruined, and all rejoiced.

Homemade Hollandiase Sauce

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 scant tablespoons lime juice
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Carefully melt the butter in a saucepan over med-low heat.

Meanwhile, beat the lime juice, egg yolks, cream, salt and pepper in a bowl. Slowly whisk a tablespoon at a time of the melted butter into the egg mixture (adding the eggs to the butter will cause them to scramble; this way keeps the mixture smooth) until you've put in 4 -6 tablespoons.

Whisking the whole time, add the egg mixture to the rest of the melted butter. Whisk until heated through and just barely bubbling--maybe 30 seconds or so (don't let it boil, or it will kind of curdle). Serve immediately.

New England Clam Chowder

Clam chowder = Christmas Eve in my family's history. This is one of the die-hard, unbending, every single Christmas Eve since I reached consciousness traditions in my family, and we love it. The original recipe comes from a small, well-used family cookbook (the interesting this is, it's not our family's book--it's some completely random family I've never heard of before, so thanks Minchey's). I particularly liked this year's versions where we had big chunks of baby red potatoes with the peels still on, red onions, big leaves of parsley, and the celery leaves thrown in there, too. It felt much more like a chunky stew, and I was a fan.

New England Clam Chowder

  • 2 pounds baby red potatoes, skins on, quartered
  • 2-3 stalks celery, leaves still attached, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 cans minced clams, 6.5 ounces each
  • up to 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 3-4 sprigs coarsely-chopped parsley
  • about 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Put potatoes, celery, onions, and garlic in a large pot. Pour the juice from the clams over, and then add enough chicken broth to just barely cover the vegetables. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir the flour to make a paste. Add the milk and stir until the flour mixture is dissolved. Add the flour/milk/butter mixture to the vegetables, then add the parsley and sugar. Add the cream, vinegar, and clams. Stir well. Heat, but don't boil or the clams will get tough and rubbery.