Winter’s last gasp (I hope)

Being gooled again by the pink blossoms and daffodils into thinking it’s spring makes the 30-degree weather we have now that much worse. It will be gone soon, but in the meantime this soup can brighten your outlook. North Carolina is the nation’s No. 1 producer of sweet potatoes – now, don’t say you didn’t learn anything today. The cold weather brought this soup back into my cooking lineup. You know how you forget about recipes sometimes – I’d forgotten how good this one is, and that it’s such a crowd pleaser. Make it vegetarian by substituting water for the chicken broth. You can peel and boil the sweet potatoes, but I prefer to roast them because roasting deepens the flavor – and you can do that part a day ahead.

Spiced Sweet Potato Soup

Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, olive oil or ghee

1 cup chopped onions

1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala or curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 pounds sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed

3 cups chicken broth or water

1 (5.46-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk

Salt to taste

Juice of 1/2 of a fresh lime

Chopped toasted pecans

Put a large pot on medium heat and add the butter, olive oil or ghee. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until they are brown, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garam masala or curry powder, cinnamon and garlic, and cook for about 10 seconds.

Add the cooked sweet potatoes and chicken broth or water. Remove the pot from the heat and use a stick blender to puree until smooth. (Alternatively, cool down the mixture and pour carefully into a blender to puree, then return it to the pot.) Return the pot to medium heat, stir in the coconut milk and heat until it is steaming hot. Taste, then add salt, and stir in the lime juice. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes. When serving, garnish each bowl with chopped pecans.

It’s all about the food, of course

Some teams from somewhere are playing football someplace this Sunday. It doesn’t matter who or where – or how inflated their balls are – because Sunday actually is the Super Bowl of food.

A rainbow of chips and dips festoons supermarket aisles in a glowing display unseen since Christmas. The price of wings usually spikes like gas on Memorial Day weekend, and for the same reason: supply and demand.

If you do care about the game, you are aware that the quality of the food affects the outcome, right? In the course of writing my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” (Harvard Common Press), I developed a couple of approaches to planning for the Super Bowl feed.

First of all, prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Fans will be there for many hours (I think the pregame hoopla started this morning).

One approach is what I call Continuous Grazing. Think of your guests as ravenous animals prowling the African savannah. For this, put out a variety of finger foods and snacks. Chips and dips are OK, but you also need more hearty offerings. During the lengthy halftime, bring out some wings, baby quiches or roast beef sliders.

Another way to organize the food is Big Bowls. Chili is always a hit, especially since it’s usually cold in early February and spicy chili offers that obligatory macho component to the day. Set up a slow-cooker or two with chili or soup, and let fans help themselves. Provide crackers or cornbread on the side; a salad if you feel vegetables are really necessary.

Yes, you could resort to the prepared food cases at your megamart. But would your team take the easy way out? Do you want to take the risk that your inadequate party spread could doom your squad? Just asking….

This recipe from “Fan Fare” makes wings with lots of flavor but no fiery heat. I picked the name because I also serve them during basketball season.

Teriyaki Tip-Off Wings

8 whole chicken wings, split at joints and wing tips discarded

3/4 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place the wings in a large zipper-top plastic bag. In a medium-size bowl, combine the pomegranate juice, orange juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar and vegetable oil. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour the marinade into the bag. Seal and shake gently to coat. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Drain the wings well (discard the marinade) and place them on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until done. Serve warm.

Makes 16 pieces

Note: These wings could also be grilled, but watch them carefully to avoid burning.

From “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” by Debbie Moose, published by Harvard Common Press.

What’s for dinner? What’s in the fridge

I was out of leftovers. No time to go to the store. No desire for takeout. So I stuck my head in the refrigerator to see what was there.

Sweet potatoes – well, one of the three I found was still good. Some fresh ginger from making a sample recipe. At the bottom of the crisper, gold: An entire bag of carrots. And there was still some homemade chicken stock in the freezer.

A well-stocked herb/spice pantry helps considerably with this kind of improvisational cooking. A jar of dried lemon peel and some ground cardamom emerged from mine, which is actually in a drawer. Yes, I alphabetize my seasoning drawer. So there.

What emerged from all this was soup. I gently cooked half of a large onion in olive oil until it was almost soft, then tossed in about a teaspoon each of cardamom and the lemon peel. Cooked that for a few minutes, then added 1-inch chunks of the peeled sweet potato and about four of the carrots, about two teaspoons of chopped fresh ginger, about 3 cups of chicken stock and a little salt. I think I threw in a little more cardamom, too. I brought it all to a boil, covered the pot, and simmered about 30 minutes, until the potatoes and carrots were soft. I got out my favorite kitchen power tool – the immersion (or hand) blender – and pureed it all.

Pretty darn good for “fridge soup.”

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION:  I’ll be on the My Carolina Today show on NBC-17 in Raleigh on Monday, Jan. 30, talking about that classic Super Bowl snack, wings. The hour-long show starts at 11 a.m., but I’m not sure when I’ll be on.

Greens and beans

Green leafy things have been pouring into my kitchen, as if a UFO (unidentified frond-filled object) had landed there. Olive oil and a hot frying pan are all that very fresh greens often need, and sometimes I toss them into tomato sauce for pasta or stuff dumplings with them. But I was looking for a change.

Combine culinary restlessness with the greens and a freezer full of newly prepared chicken stock, and soup came to mind. I tried a recipe using chard and lentils from Barbara Kafka’s “Soup: A Way of Life.” I know I’ve mentioned this book before, but the recipes are always interesting. For this one, however, I’d make some changes.

First of all, the recipe makes an extremely thick soup, more like a stew. I added more stock because I wanted a more liquid soup. Also, maybe because I added liquid, I would double the paprika and cumin for more flavor. For vegetarians, I would suggest using vegetable stock, not water. Kafka says to use chard, but I think any kind of medium-flavored leafy green would do. I don’t know why I don’t cook with lentils more often. They don’t have to be soaked, cook quickly and are small enough to play well with other ingredients in a soup or stew. Here’s the recipe with my changes.

Chard and Lentil Soup

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon paprika (I suggest 2 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon ground cumin (I suggest 2 teaspoons)

2 medium bunches green onions, white part cut into 1/4-inch pieces plus enough green part to make 1/2 cup

1 pound dried brown lentils

6 cups chicken stock (I added about 3 more cups)

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 pounds chard, leaves coarsely chopped, stems discarded

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice (another teaspoon or so wouldn’t hurt)

Salt and black pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil, paprika and cumin over low heat, stirring, until the spices are fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the green onion whites. Cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the lentils, stock and garlic. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until the lentils are almost done.

Stir in the green onion greens, chard, cilantro and lemon juice. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the chard is cooked through and the lentils are soft. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

Soup and balances

I’m fond of making soup this time of year, maybe as a counterbalance to the rich and sweet goodies that abound. I figure a pot of vegetable-based soup must absorb a goodly number of the calories from Moravian spice cookies or Gorgonzola cheese.

Last night, I made a variation of the mushroom-barley soup recipe in Barbara Kafka’s “Soup: A Way of Life” (Artisan, 1998). It’s below with my changes. But before you think there’s too much healthy eating going on in my house, I paired it with spinach salad with bacon-apple cider dressing. One does need a balanced diet.

Mushroom-Barley Soup

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1/4 ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms

1 cup pearl barley

1/2 cup diced carrot

1/2 cup diced celery

1 tablespoon nondairy margarine or butter

1 small onion, minced

1/2 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, diced

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Pour 1 cup boiling water over the dried mushrooms. Let sit for 15 minutes, then strain and reserve the soaking liquid. In a medium saucepan, bring the barley, carrot, celery, rehydrated mushrooms, chicken broth and 4-5 cups water to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

In a medium frying pan, melt the margarine or butter over medium heat. Cook the onion for about 8 minutes or until soft. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes or so, until soft. Put the mixture in a bowl. Pour the mushroom soaking liquid into the pan and bring to a boil, stirring wiht a wooden spoon to get up any browned bits. Add the liquid along with the onion mixture to the soup. Return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes then stir in the garlic. Simmer covered for 5 minutes. Stir in the salt and black pepper.

Garlands of garlic

Even after offering heads of garlic as lovely parting gifts to each visitor to my home in the last few weeks, I noticed last night that the bag of garlic The Hub brought home was still about half full. I combed through my cookbooks on Sunday, determined to make a dent in the sack.

The result: Garlic soup, based on a recipe from “Soup: A Way of Life” by Barbara Kafka (Artisan, 1998) with my additions. The crucial part of this soup, as Kafka writes, is cooking the garlic cloves very slowly until they’re pillowy soft. Do not let them come anywhere near brown. I left them whole in the finished soup, but I suppose you could puree them. A little coconut milk might be interesting, too.

Garlic Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 heads garlic, peeled and sliced in half (remove any green part in the center and discard)

1 (3-inch) stalk lemongrass, cut in half lengthwise

About 1/2 cup chicken broth (I used the broth from cooking the chicken in the microwave)

2 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

1/2 to 1 serrano chile, chopped

Juice of 1 lime

About 2 cups baby spinach

Salt to taste

About a cup of cilantro leaves

Heat the oil in a large pot over low – and I mean low – heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until the garlic is silky and translucent. Do not let it brown. Do not be tempted to raise the heat. Add 9 cups of water, the chicken broth and the lemongrass and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook, uncovered, about 30 minutes. Add the chile, shredded chicken, lime juice, spinach and cilantro. Cover and simmer on low heat for a few minutes, until the cilantro and spinach wilt a little. Taste and add salt as desired. Remove the lemongrass before serving.


Simmer time

I eat ice cream in January, and open windows as long as it’s over 50 degrees (to the distress of The Hub, who stacks extra quilts on his side of the bed). I don’t like to fall into stereotypical ideas like frozen treats only in summer or soup in the fall.

But the pull of the change in season is too strong, even for rebellious me.  That’s why two pots simmered on my stove yesterday, brewing freezer-stocking batches of chicken broth.

All it takes is time, which I had yesterday because I was held captive in my home while waiting for a cable TV repairman.

It also requires chicken bones, which I had in the freezer from two recent roast chickens. Yes, you can freeze the carcass – seal it in a plastic bag after removing all the edible meat from it. Into each pot went one, along with a stalk of celery, a carrot, half a large onion, a couple of cloves of garlic and three or four peppercorns. I don’t add salt because I use it as a base for other foods, and I prefer to limit my salt. Water, then three or four hours on the stove at a low simmer, adding water about halfway through. Strain into containers and freeze.

Sometimes there are good reasons for the way things are. And my freezer is full of them now.

Food News Roundup

There are cold meals for hot days, information on coconut milk and a talk with Poole’s Diner chef Ashley Christensen on her “Iron Chef” appearance in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) today. But the most interesting item for me was the note that A Southern Season, a Chapel Hill, N.C. palace of food delights for more than 35 years, has been sold to a group of local investors. Read more here.  I’ve been wandering its aisles since I was in college, and my roommate and I rode the bus ‘way out from campus to satisfy our rum-cordial chocolate fix.

There is one cold soup that I will not look upon initially with suspicion, and Kathleen Purvis agrees with me. Read her thoughts on gazpacho in The Charlotte Observer, here.

Where else but Asheville? Vegfest, celebrating vegan and vegetarian eating, will be held there on Sunday. Guess you won’t see anyone walking around with the mastodon-sized turkey legs from fairs, but there will be beer – it is Asheville. Read more here.

Speaking of vegetarians, there probably aren’t a lot of them in Louisiana. Tofu boudin – I don’t think so. The Baton Rouge Advocate has a recipe for a tuna burger as a way to liven up the summer burger repertoire here.

Try a Mr. MacGregor’s Spritzer in this article on creative, non-alcoholic mocktails in the Chicago Tribune. No sickly sweet Shirley Temples here.

If you need a kick to your juice – and, with this heat, I sure do – check out the beverage on Green Eats Blog. And if you don’t like that one, here’s another at JanNorris.

Pity the poor restaurant reviewer. No, really. Stop laughing, now. Do you really want to eat out four or five nights a week, and tell your friends what to order….oh, you already do that. Well, read Eatocracy anyway for confessions of restaurant reviewers and a fake name that takes some pop culture knowledge to spot.



Beach dreams

In  January, The Hub and I receive the advance registration for the spot in Buxton, N.C. where we spend a week each May. Just seeing the envelope makes me want to be at the Outer Banks, although I know that, right now, the weather will be almost as stinky as it is here. At least it gives hope that spring is coming, and reminds me that it’s never too early to begin planning the all-important beach reading.

A classic soup there is what I always heard called Hatteras Clam Chowder, although it has other names. It’s made with broth, not cream or milk, and is packed with clams, onions and chunks of potato. Check out this recipe at Mariner’s Menu

Food news roundup

Plenty of soup for you in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). There’s gumbo, black bean and a chipotle squash. Check it out here. There is also an interesting article on Aviator Brewing in Fuquay-Varina, N.C., a microbrewery which will soon open a restaurant.

Over at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Kathleen Purvis offers some wise advice: Don’t eat foods advertised on TV. Read about how she came to that conclusion here.

The Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) reviews a new cookbook with recipes designed to appeal to children with food allergies. Columnist Joyce Clark Hicks gives some recipes a test drive with her own kids. Read the results here.

A South Carolina couple purchased and restored an old electric mill and now produce stone-ground cornmeal, grits and corn flour. Read the story in the Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) here. Gotta love the headline, too.

Maya Angelou is known as a writer and professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. N.C., but she is also a lover of good food. The Winston-Salem Journal interviews her about her new cookbook, “Great Food All Day Long,” here.

Tu Bishvat isn’t a blues singer, it’s a Jewish holiday that has something to do with taxing ancient fruit trees, but that’s not important right now. What is important is that the Los Angeles Times has recipes for breads and desserts using dried fruits here in honor of the holiday.

Cabbage: It isn’t just for coleslaw anymore. Find out new ways to use it in the Dallas Morning News, here.

Biscuits vs. cabbage. Pillows of buttery goodness vs. stuff your Mom told you to eat. Sorry. The biscuits in the Minneapolis Star Tribune win. Look here and see if you agree. They have a roll-out recipe. Now, I have always been challenged in that department and have found that drop biscuits taste just as good, they’re just not perfectly round.