Monday, May 9, 2011

Surprise Salad #1

Okay, here’s the first of the surprise salad recipes I promised you!

This is a salad that you’d use if your husband brought home an old service buddy he met again downtown, and it’s almost dinnertime, you haven’t gone to the store, and you can’t make dinner reservations because all the “extra” in your bank account went to band fees, school fees, tuition, gasoline or some other unavoidable "luxury."


Grab a couple of cans, some stuff from the fridge, and a few herbs from the pantry, and you’re set for a refreshing salad that will pass any muster. You will need:

1 (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can of pitted black olives
the “heart” of a fresh celery
2 Tbsps capers from a jar
3 large pieces of roasted red peppers from a jar, drained
4-5 large fresh sprigs of parsley, Italian flat-leaf parsley or cilantro OR
2 Tbsps dried versions of one of the above, soaked in:
3 Tbsps red wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar will do if wine’s a problem)
3-4 Tbsps virgin or extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly-made or storebought cheese croutons
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste


Remove the “heart” from the celery. That is the lighter-colored, more tender, sweeter, inner section of the celery, about 2” in diameter or a bit more. The whole plant is a “stalk;” the individual pieces are called “ribs.” The outer ribs will be darker and tougher than the heart. Slice the celery heart, leaves and all, into ¼” slices and place in a colander. Wash thoroughly under running cold water. Place in a medium-sized salad bowl. Rinse the two Tbsps of capers under running cold water to remove some of the salt. Add to bowl. Open, drain and rinse the olives, and add them to the salad bowl. Open, drain—saving the juice—and reserve the tomato dice in the salad bowl. Save the juice in your freezer container for soup next week. Open the roasted red peppers, remove 3 large pieces and dice them. Add them to the salad also. Rinse, pick and chop fine the herbs if using fresh herbs; otherwise soak the 2 Tbsps of dried herb, (whether parsley, Italian flat-leaved parsley or cilantro—but not all) in the 3 Tbsps of red wine vinegar. Let soak for 10 or 15 minutes, then add herb and vinegar to the bowl. Season to taste. Add the olive oil and toss gently, trying not to bruise or break the ingredients. If desired, finely sliced green onions (scallions) are a nice addition instead of the sliced Vidalia or red onion. Add the croutons at the very last, just as you plate up the salad.

This goes well with plain, hearty meals and gives a nice freshness to any meal. Quick and easy. Try it sometimes. You’ll be glad you did.

See you next time!

Tuscan Sausage-'n-Potato Soup

Hi, again!

I know it’s been a long time since I posted, but honestly, I had a really good reason for it.

I spent the last month-and-a-half making an heirloom Baptismal dress for our precious little great-grandson, Master Jackson Christopher Bentley, who was born and who resides in England. Fortunately, the family loved it, so I'm jazzed about that! There will be pictures on pretty soon, so if you're interested, by all means take a look and leave a comment! I’d love it if you’d follow me here, too.

I promised my daughters to post the recipe for this soup, because they really love it, so here goes. I promise that immediately I'm finished with this one, I'll post the first of the "surprise salads" recipes. You have my word on it.

Okay. You'll need:

1 package (5 links) of Italian Hot Sausage
4 cans of cream of potato soup
4 or 5 large potatoes, (the floury kind not the waxy ones)
2 cans evaporated milk
¼ lb. bacon
I very large or 2 large white onions
1 package frozen chopped spinach OR
1 # fresh young spinach
¼ tsp red pepper flakes or to taste (remember the sausage is hot)
Chicken stock as needed

Slice sausages into 1” coins and reserve. Peel, wash and finely dice onion. Reserve. Cut bacon into 1” slices and render slowly in a heavy pan or Dutch Oven over medium heat to remove all fat. Cool and crumble bacon. Reserve the bacon and the bacon fat in separate bowls. If you’re using fresh spinach, pick over the leaves of the fresh and remove severely wilted, discolored, slick or bruised portions. Wash carefully under running water and shake or spin dry. Cut fresh spinach into 1” squares. For frozen spinach, just open the package. Reserve. Peel, wash and cut (into ½” dice) the potatoes. Boil them in enough water to cover until they are cooked.

In the Dutch Oven, sauté the sausage coins until well done. Reserve. Using 2 Tbsps of the reserved bacon fat, sweat the onion until it’s transparent, then sauté the fresh or frozen spinach over medium-high heat right on top of the onion, until it is totally wilted and cooked through. Reserve the scrapings from the bottom of the pan unless they are burned. These add a wonderful depth to the dish. Add the ¼ tsp red pepper flakes. Combine well, cooking for another minute or two. Add the contents of the four cans of potato soup, the boiled potatoes and their water, and the two cans of evaporated milk. Combine well and let simmer for about five minutes. Add the sausage, the crumbled bacon, and the cooked spinach.

If the soup is too thick, thin it with chicken stock or water. Season sparingly to taste with salt and black pepper. Let it all simmer together while you warm the big, crusty slabs of garlic bread and toss the fresh salad you’re serving with this wonderful soup.

All you need now is a terrific dessert and a good appetite! Enjoy!

PS: Diced roasted red peppers are delicious in this dish. Add them to the soup after it's plated up. Go easy with until you're sure you like it. Fresh escarole substitutes well for the spinach, too.

Okay, there you are! Let me know what you think, won't you? Your comments help me offer recipes along the lines of things my followers enjoy. Thanks!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nana's Famous Chicken Soup

Here’s the recipe I promised you for my good chicken soup. My daughter, Gretchen, claims it will re-grow limbs. Well, I won’t go that far, but I will say I love making soup for people I care about (or downright love-to-pieces!) Even people who aren’t ill will just gobble it up anyway. It’s Louisiana good! Just be sure you have a great big pot to cook it in, or cut the recipe in half. It’s just as good either way.

A note here: This is not a “quickie meal.” The prep takes a long time, the cooking takes very little, comparatively. This is a great soup for the family to gather round on a rainy or snowy Saturday, with hot garlic bread, a fresh salad*, and some kind of pudding for dessert. Mmmm….

Nana’s Best Chicken Soup

1 pkg (about 3 #) chicken legs-and-thighs OR
the equivalent in other pieces of chicken
2 very large onions
1 1/2 # carrots
1 entire stalk of celery (the whole thing; individual pieces are called “ribs”)
1 tbsp fresh ginger
1 entire head of garlic
half a bunch of curly parsley
half a bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley OR
half a bunch of cilantro OR
2 Tbsps dried parsley AND
2 Tbsps dried cilantro
1 Tbsp—1/2 cup Knorr Chicken Bouillon (It will be labelled in English and in Spanish, so you know you're getting the right thing.)
ground black pepper to taste AND/OR
red pepper flakes to taste
(just remember, pepper gets stronger over time, so be careful)


Rinse the chicken pieces under cold running water and pat dry. If you like the chicken skin, leave it on. I usually remove all but the smallest bits of skin and most of the fat from my chicken pieces. Do what you like. If you’re using the skin, remove it and cut it in 1” squares. Reserve. Place the chicken in your largest pot and cover it with enough water to cover twice as much chicken. For example, if your chicken can be covered with one gallon of water, use two gallons of water, okay? Sometimes I talk funny, but I think you know what I mean. If now, write me at and put the words “Chicken Soup” in the “Subject” line. I’ll get right back to you.

Okay, now, scrape or peel your carrots and cut them into 1” chunks. If they’re very thick, split the thick parts lengthways as well. Reserve them in a very large bowl. All your veggies are going to go into it.

Trim your celery, taking off any discolored parts and taking the barest bit off any broken stems. Remove the heel (which you will peel and cut into six delicious bits) and cut your celery into 1” slices as well, dropping them into a colander, not into the veggie bowl yet. Use the leaves as well. Just be sure to cut them into julienne (or small bits if you prefer.) Drop them into the colander, too, and rinse well under cold running water.

Place the now-cleaned celery into the veggie bowl. The reason you have to be so particular with celery is, when it’s growing, the growers pile earth up against the stems to “blanch” them. That comes from the French word, “blanche,” which means “white.” It’s why your celery isn’t green and bitter. If it is green and bitter, they didn’t blanche the celery when they should have done.

Smash and peel the entire head of garlic. Don’t say, “I like garlic, but not that much.” Yes, I hear you. But just do it. It’s delicious this way, and not hot or biting; just mellow and creamy and luscious---smash the garlic, okay? Trust me. Save it in a small bowl.

Now peel and chop both onions fine. Reserve them in the big bowl, too.

Using the tip of a teaspoon, scrape off the skin from about 1” to 1-1/2” of your ginger. Mince it as fine as you can make it. Put it in the little bowl and let it get friendly with the garlic. If you’re using dried parsley and cilantro, put them in, too.

If you’re using the fresh parsley/cilantro, now’s the time to trim any discolored or broken stems and wash them both thoroughly under cold running water. Chop them medium-fine and put them in their own medium bowl. They’ll be added last. We don’t want them in, yet.


By now your chicken should be boiling merrily. Turn down your heat to medium (or, if you have lots of time, medium-low, and skim the grayish stuff off the top of the seething soup-to-be. Discard it. Test your chicken from time to time. What you’re looking for is chicken that’s almost falling off the bones. When you get to that point, use your long kitchen tongs to remove the chicken pieces from the broth. Set them aside in a large bowl, pan, jellyroll pan (the kind we all call a “cookie sheet,” but it has a little rim all round.) Whatever you can use, cool the chicken parts quickly. If you have no tongs, use your kitchen fork. Just get them out, no hurry, and be careful. Don’t burn yourself.

Meanwhile, carefully add all your veggies from the big bowl to the seething broth, and add the Knorr chicken Chicken Bouillon to taste. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take any out. so start slowly and add judiciously.

While the veggies cook—don’t overcook them, whatever you do; they should be fork tender but not mushy—cut the meat off the bones into roughly 1” squares. You want it tender, because sick people ache all over, and sometimes just chewing can hurt. When you have your meat cut up, put it back into the pot and add your parsley and cilantro. Let it cook for about 3-5 minutes and turn off the heat. Correct for seasonings with more Knorr, if you like, and add the black pepper if you’re using it. Let it stand for a few minutes for the ingredients to get friendly, and serve into big soup mugs, or into bowls. This really is a tasty dish!

That’s it!

*Check out my recipe for “Surprise Salads” coming up next!