Posts Tagged ‘cold weather food’

Up at the crack of dawn, I spent this Sunday morning firing up the smoker for Turkey #1 (see last year’s smoked turkey).  After all that, I wasn’t just hungry, but Tony Robbins Hungry.  I needed a solid and hearty breakfast and I had a bunch of chard that needed to get used up today; this created a dish borne from necessity, and yet, it was everything I could have asked for in a Sunday breakfast.

Sausage & Chard Sauté with Eggs

Serves 4

  • 1 pound pork or turkey breakfast sausage (we used pork, of course)
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced small
  • 1/2 bell pepper, diced small
  • 1 bunch chard, stems removed and chopped separately, leaves cut into 1″ ribbons
  • 1/4 cup chicken or beef stock
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Eggs (we served 2 per person, but the amount will depend on your own appetite)
  1. In a large skillet on medium heat, start to brown and crumble sausage.
  2. When sausage starts to brown and give off fat, add onions and bell pepper, cook until onions translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add chard stems and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Deglaze pan with the stock, scraping up any browned bits in the pan.
  5. Add chard leaves and cover pan with a lid, turn heat down to low, letting chard wilt.
  6. Cook 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender; during this time, start to cook your eggs–I did mine basted, but you go on and cook your eggs however you like them.
  7. Season the chard sauté with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve with the sauté topped with eggs.

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This past week, even though it’s still rather warm here in Southern California, I’ve definitely noticed the changes that mark the movement of Summer into Autumn.  They’re very subtle, and someone who hasn’t lived here for most of their lives wouldn’t necessarily notice–how the morning air is just a few degrees cooler, the afternoon light tilts just slightly casting a warm glow across the skies, even though it’s still 85 degrees outside.  With the seasonal nestiness kicking in, my thoughts have been moving to some of my favorite things to make–roasts, braises, and the like.  Tonight, I made some last minute plans to have friends over for dinner, so I wanted some uncomplicated dishes that I knew I could put together easily–a Roast Chicken with root vegetables cooked in the pan; a salad… but what about dessert?

Yes, even with living a primal lifestyle, dessert can and does come into the equation.  The occasional sweet thing is not verboten, and with a little tweak here and there, you can make something spectacular.  Here at El Rancho, I had a bag of pears sitting on my counter that needed some attention, and I KNEW what I had to make.

Taking the firmest of the pears, they got the peeling and coring of their lives.

A vanilla bean was split down the middle and scraped of its insides (wow, that sounds awfully violent, doesn’t it?) and blended with some melted butter and local Orange Blossom Honey.  After the pears took a little bath in this magical syrup, they were nestled in one of my favorite roasting dishes and put in the oven for an hour.

What came out:

And I’m not joking when I tell you these smelled amazing when they came out of the oven.  The pears with the honey, vanilla and a splash of lemon just works.   What’s fantastic is that the juices mix with the syrup and caramelize into this sauce you could pretty much wear as a perfume.  It’s so simple, but one of these guys with a spoonful of whipped crème fraiche and a handful of fresh raspberries… okay, words don’t do it justice.

I admit:  not the greatest picture.  Not gonna apologize for it, either–that pear was warm, the crème fraiche was melting, and I needed to PUT IT IN MY MOUTH.

Honey-Vanilla Roasted Pears

  • 4 firm pears, peeled, cut in half and cored
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup butter, plus extra for pan
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Butter roasting dish and arrange pears cut side up
  3. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds.
  4. Add seeds to a small saucepan with the honey, butter, lemon juice and melt on low heat until butter has melted and created a syrup.
  5. Tuck the remaining vanilla bean with the pears, pour syrup over the pears, making sure some of the syrup is in the core of each pear.
  6. Roast for about 30 minutes, then turn over and roast another 20-30 minutes until the pears are fork-tender.
  7. Turn the pears cut side up again, and brush juices over the tops.
  8. If you’d like a little extra browning like I did, turn broiler on low and broil the tops for 3-5 minutes.
  9. Serve warm with whipped crème fraiche or if you’re feeling decadent, some great vanilla ice cream.

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Growing up, there were two uses for pumpkins:  pie and jack o’lanterns.  I never heard of pumpkin in soups or curries or quick breads, and can you imagine, the little pumpkin-pie-lover that I am, to be opened to those possibilities?  Of course, I still love carving pumpkins for Hallowe’en:

We’ve had a surfeit of pumpkins and other winter squashes coming in with our CSA box–Long Island Cheese Pumpkins, Butternut Squash, Delicata Squash–perhaps not great for carving, but absolutely delicious when roasted and pureed into soups, and in this case, a savory tart.  It’s rich stuff, with butter and sour cream and sweetened ever-so-slightly with caramelized onions and the natural sugars that develop with roasting squash.  I’ll admit something to you–because I was baking this on Hallowe’en evening, and along with getting ready for the Big Night, I cheated and used a Pillsbury Pie Crust.  I KNOW, I KNOW, I can make pate brisee and it would have been so much better, but I was in a time crunch you guys!  Anyway, it was a huge hit with Choo, who shares my love of all that is pumpkin.

I used a blend of a few different squashes–I had roasted a pan full of pumpkin, butternut squash, and delicata to help clear some counter space earlier in the week.  Roasting winter squashes is incredibly easy:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°
  2. Cut squashes into large pieces, scrape out seeds and stringy pulp.  You can peel them, but it’s really not necessary–the flesh can be easily scraped out after roasting.
  3. Toss in just enough olive oil to coat pieces lightly, and if using squash for savory dishes, add a head’s worth of garlic cloves.
  4. Roast in oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until flesh is browned and tender.

If you have extra puree, then it’s fine to store in the freezer in an airtight container.

Even though I served it for dinner, this tart would make an excellent Autumn brunch dish–it would go perfectly with a mixed greens salad with fall notes (pomegranate seeds, candied walnuts, chevre, etc.).

Savory Winter Squash & Caramelized Onion Tart

  • 1/2 batch of Pate Brisee (or one refrigerated pie crust if you’re a cheater like me)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 large Maui Sweet onion, sliced
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/4 cups roasted squash puree, any combination of pumpkin, butternut squash or delicata
  • 5 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 10-12 fresh sage leaves (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°
  2. Roll out pate brisee and line a 9″ tart pan.  Cover and refrigerate lined tart pan for 20 minutes.
  3. Blind bake tart crust for 10-12 minutes.  Blind baking is done by lining dough with a layer parchment paper and filling crust with pie weights such as dried beans, rice, ceramic beads.  Set aside to cool slightly and turn oven down to 350°
  4. Melt butter in a skillet on medium-low heat and add onions.  Gently cook until soft and add thyme.  Slowly cook onions on low heat until caramelized, about 20-30 minutes.  Remove thyme branches and set aside.
  5. In a food processor, add squash puree, roasted garlic cloves and caramelized onions (and any melted butter remaining in the pan) and pulse until smooth.
  6. Add sour cream, eggs, cream, salt and pepper to food processor and pulse until incorporated fully, scraping sides down with a rubber spatula at least once.
  7. Pour into prepared tart shell and decorate with sage leaves if desired.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until center is set and top is browned.


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We are still clearly in soup mode here at El Rancho Destructo.

I had a great bunch of spinach from our CSA box, and even though I usually default to a spinach salad, I wanted to do something I knew Kiddo would happily eat.  Italian Wedding Soup was a no-brainer for this one:  little bite-sized meatballs and some fun small pasta like stars (as pictured), ditalini, orzo  or acini de pepe in chicken broth, loaded with vegetables.

This is also one of those soups that taste even better the next day, so don’t cut the recipe in half!  Make a full batch and freeze portions for lunches–you’ll be glad you did.

Italian Wedding Soup Makes 6 to 8 servings


  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 of a large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a sheet pan with foil and lightly oil with vegetable oil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients until well mixed.
  3. Scoop and shape meatballs into 1″ balls.  This amount will make about 32-40 meatballs.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until meatballs are cooked through.  While the meatballs are in the oven, start on the soup.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onions, diced
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup small pasta
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed and trimmed
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. In a large soup pot on medium heat, heat olive oil and add onions, carrots and celery, and sweat until vegetables are glossy and onions are tender.
  2. Add thyme and white wine; simmer until the wine is reduced by half.
  3. Add chicken stock and bring to a full simmer.  Add pasta and simmer until pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add meatballs;  stir in spinach in batches, letting it wilt into the soup.
  5. Season to taste, remove thyme stems and serve.


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Needless to say, this CSA challenge is, well, challenging. I know I’m a good cook, but I do fall into ruts, especially on the weekdays when time is shorter, so vegetables tend to come in simple salads or sautés or stir-fries.  Getting vegetables that I wouldn’t normally buy in my day-to-day grocery purchases has been the nudge I really needed to try something new.  So, with a little inspiration, I have two dishes that used items from my CSA box.

First up, Beet & Apple Pureé, as inspired by The Silver Palate Cookbook (which I found an old copy in near-perfect condition at the used book store for $2).  I’ll admit it right now:  I’m not really a big fan of beets.  I don’t hate them, but I just don’t ever reach for them when I’m at the farmer’s market.  I received two Candy Striped Beets in my box and they cooked up to a really gorgeous sunset pink-orange which once blended with the apples, turned the puree a lovely golden-rosy color.  I think this is a great way to introduce beets to those who don’t really like beets–the apples and the caramelized onions sweeten and temper the earthiness of the beets.  As mentioned by The Silver Palate, this goes well served hot with pork, duck or goose, or cold with grilled sausages.

Beet & Apple Pureé adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

Makes approximately 2 cups

  • 2 medium beets, washed and green tops removed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 medium Granny Smith or any other tart apple
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fruity and/or sweet vinegar, such as raspberry, balsamic, etc.
  • Salt to taste
  1. Put beets in saucepan, cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, turn heat down to medium, and simmer beets until tender, about 30-40 minutes.
  2. While beets are simmering, melt butter in large skillet on medium-low heat and add onions.  Gently cook onions until tender and beginning to caramelize, about 30 minutes.
  3. Add apples, sugar and vinegar and cook until apples are tender, about 10 minutes.
  4. When beets are ready, cool until they can be handled and slip off skins, chop roughly and put into a food processor.  Add apple-onion mixture with a pinch of salt to food processor and pulse until smooth.
  5. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed;  serve warm or cold as desired.


Next up, is a Chard Gratin with bacon and chèvre (of course there’s bacon, I hear you say).  Now, I do like chard, but I usually do a simple braise in chicken stock and garlic or a basic sauté with olive oil and a little lemon juice.  This time, I was ready to branch out, and I found inspiration at Oui, Chef with his Rainbow Chard and Chévre Casserole and through my friend, Sonya, who told me about her way of making chard (bacon, goat cheese, and tons of slow cooked garlic and onions. YUM. Sometimes I crack an egg on it and call it breakfast).

I did have to tweak it since I was working with what I had, and what I didn’t have was chicken stock (I desperately need to make a batch soon), and what basil I have I’m holding on to for making tomato soup tomorrow.  What I did have was bacon, and bacon and greens are a match made in heaven.  You guys, this is ridiculously good and if you can’t stand the idea of chard, but like spinach, that would be a perfectly acceptable substitute.  I actually made a double batch of the sauce and saved half for my spinach later this week, because it’s just that good if you love chévre.

One problem with the changing seasons is that it’s now dark when we sit down for dinner–and my notoriously not-very-well-lit living room is making photography a challenge.  Even with playing around with GIMP, my pictures are looking like they’re straight out of a 60’s cookbook.

Chard Gratin with Bacon & Chévre

Serves 4

  • 1 pound Rainbow Chard
  • 4 ounces bacon, diced
  • 1/4 medium yellow onion, diced fine (appx. 1/4 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup half & half (more if needed to thin sauce)
  • 4 ounces chévre, crumbled
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Butter, as needed
  1. Wash and chop chard; remove stalks first and chop into 1/2″ pieces, then cut leaves into 1″ strips (or if you want to be fancy, you can say chiffonade).  In a saucepan, add 1 cup water with a hefty pinch of salt and bring to a hard simmer.  Add stalks and simmer uncovered for 4-5 minutes.  Add leaves, simmer for 2 more minutes, then cover saucepan and remove from heat; let steam for 6-8 minutes.  Drain chard in colander and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet on medium heat, cook bacon until crispy, then remove and drain on paper towels.  Remove all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat, turn heat to low, and add onion and garlic.  Cook until onion is glossy and translucent and lightly browned.
  3. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook roux for about 3 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Add half & half, and whisk until smooth and thickened.  Add chévre and stir until melted.  Season as needed with salt and pepper.
  5. Butter a small casserole dish and spread chard in casserole.  Sprinkle with bacon then top with sauce.
  6. Place casserole under broiler on low setting and broil until sauce is browned and bubbling, about 6 to 8 minutes.

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Here in L.A., we’ve finally had some real, honest-to-god Fall weather hit the area, after last week’s crazy record-breaking heatwave.  Grey skies!  Drizzle!  Chilly nights!  I can’t tell you how much I love this kind of weather, and it really gets me to thinking about the perfect Autumn dishes.  Some of my favorite foods and flavors are synonymous with this time of year:  roasted turkey, sage, pumpkin, apples, cranberries… sounds a whole lot like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

I’ve had a few acorn squash and a bag of wild rice hanging around for a while waiting for inspiration to hit, and today, while digging through my cupboards, I had the perfect combination of flavors to stuff into roasted squash.  A filling made with a little bacon, some chicken sausage, sweetened with dried figs and made earthy with sage and chopped hazelnuts, all tossed into cooked wild rice;  after the Kiddo and I had our fill, Choo finished it all, with no hope for leftovers.

Note:  The usual ratio for cooking wild rice is 4 cups liquid to 1 cup of rice, and when I simmered the rice for the recommended 45 minutes, the rice was perfectly cooked, but I ended up straining off about 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth.  If I had let it simmer much longer, the rice would have been mush–when you purchase your wild rice, follow the given directions on the package.  Also, if you’re not a big fan of wild rice, brown rice or quinoa would work nicely as a substitute.

Acorn Squash with Wild Rice, Sausage, Dried Fig and Hazelnut Stuffing

  • 2 large acorn squash
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups low-salt chicken broth (or less, if needed)
  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice
  • 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 ounces bacon, diced
  • 3 links chicken or turkey Italian sausage (sweet or hot, to your preference), appx. 10 ounces
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 large stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, rubbed
  • 9 dried Black Mission figs, appx 1/4 cup (cranberries would also be excellent if you don’t like figs)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. In a medium saucepan, add chicken broth, thyme, and bay leaf  and on medium-heat bring to a full boil.
  3. While waiting for the broth to boil, wash, halve squash lengthwise, and scoop out seeds.  Cover sheet pan with foil and grease with olive oil.  Rub olive oil on the insides of the squash and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Place cut side down on sheet pan and roast in oven until fork tender, about 40-50 minutes.  About 30 minutes of roasting, turn squash cut side up to get some color on the inside.  Set aside when done.
  4. When broth comes to a boil, add wild rice and cover.  Simmer for about 45 minutes, until tender.
  5. In a large sauté pan, cook bacon on medium heat until well-browned.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Keep about 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings in the pan.
  6. Remove sausage from casing and cook thoroughly, and break into small crumbles.
  7. Add shallots, celery and sage; sweat until glossy and tender.
  8. When wild rice is done, combine with sausage mixture, figs, hazelnuts, bacon, and 1 tablespoon parsley.
  9. Scoop stuffing into squash halves, top with remaining parsley.

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You guys!  It RAINED today!  Ok, fine, it was just a drizzle, but I am thrilled–thrilled–I tell you!  And when it rains, you know what that means.

Soup!  Hearty, comforting, fortifying soup that warms the toes and makes you feel all cozy on the inside.  And, from my last post, you know I’m on a mission to eat more vegetables on a daily basis.   An easy way to do that is to make a soup loaded with vegetables and plenty of flavor from chicken stock and a fat dollop of pesto.

The great thing about minestrone is there really isn’t a set recipe–use some seasonal vegetables, add some beans (Canellini is the usual, but red kidney beans or fava beans would work well), tomatoes, a little pasta or rice, and some homemade chicken or vegetable stock and you’ll have yourself a fine soup.   And, once all your vegetables are chopped, this comes together really quickly–especially if you’re cheating like me and using canned beans (gasp!).  This recipe makes about 4 quarts–about 8 dinner-sized servings of soup, but it freezes very nicely for lunches.

BBB Garden Minestrone Soup

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 2 leeks, sliced into half-moons
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 1 cup peeled and sliced carrots
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large red bell pepper, 1/2″ dice
  • 5 small Yukon Gold or Red potatoes, 1/2″ dice (appx. 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced into half-moons
  • 1-14 ounce can Canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup whole wheat pasta–any small pasta will do, such as shells or fusilli
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional:  Pesto or grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat a large soup pot on medium heat and add oil.  Add onions, leeks, celery, carrots, thyme and bay leaf.  Sweat vegetables for 4-6 minutes, until onions are translucent and glossy.
  2. Add bell pepper, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, and chicken stock.  Raise heat to medium-high and bring soup to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add zucchini, beans and pasta and simmer for another 10-12 minutes, until pasta is tender.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with pesto or Parmesan cheese.

(I told you it was easy!)

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After a few weeks of perfectly warm and sunny weather, we folks here in Southern California got hit with a bit of rain today.  Big deal, you’re probably thinking to yourself if you live anywhere but here, but here in Los Angeles, it’s kind of odd when it rains after the end of March.  We really don’t know what to do with ourselves. 

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the rain.  It’s still coming down as I write this, and since both Choo and Kiddo are in bed dreaming big dreams, I have everything turned off so I can listen to it. 

Still, the funniest thing I overheard today, while in the parking lot of the local u-pick farm and farmstand was a man worrying over the whole family getting pneumonia while spending the morning in barely drizzling 58° degree weather.  Yeah, we’re a city of weather wimps. 

It was a perfect day for me to go stomp around in the fields;  I picked a nice mess of fava beans, some red leaf lettuce, and a bag full of leeks.

I love that shade of green.  This was a new experience, pulling leeks out of the ground.  It really was incredibly satisfying to do it, to tell the truth.  By the way, for my Southern California readers, we were at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark.   We get out there about twice a year, once around this time, and again in the late summer–luckily, they do the farmer’s market circuit, so I see them at the Calabasas, Encino, and Hollywood farmer’s markets–it’s an easier trip.  Highly recommended, especially if you’ve got kids.

I digress.  Back to soup!

I pulled out seven slender leeks, which, once home, were washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin half-moons. 

These were tossed into a soup pot with a few tablespoons of melted butter waiting for them.  This soup calls for the leeks to be cooked on a low heat, slowly, until they’re glossy and soft, and you know that if you pulled out a bite of them, they’d melt in your mouth. 

When the leeks are tender, after about 15 minutes, a few sprigs of thyme get tossed into the pot.

I don’t know about you, but I really like fresh thyme.  The one thing I don’t like about it is trying to strip the leaves from the stems–it’s one of those fiddly jobs that just gets in the way of things.  But, you know what’s great?  When making a soup or a stew with fresh thyme, it’s okay to just throw the whole stem in during the cooking process.  The heat and the simmering will cause the leaves to come off the stem, and all you need to do is just fish the stems out at the end. 

To these lovely leeks, add four large-ish peeled and chopped russet potatoes.  I like using russets for this soup for the fact that they do fall apart, creating a thick texture.  The one warning is to not overcook and overwork the potatoes–depending on how big the chunks are, the simmer time shouldn’t be more than 15-20 minutes–just long enough so the potatoes are tender and will easily crush with the back of a spoon. 

Once the potatoes are in, then chicken stock (or vegetable stock) is added, just enough to cover the potatoes.  In this case, a quart was the perfect amount.  Bring the pot up to a boil, then turn down to low to simmer for about 15 minutes. 

Now, I used an immersion blender–I feel like I get more control on pureeing than what I get out of a regular stand blender.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, don’t fret, you can use a regular blender, but only puree about half of the soup, and smash some of the larger chunks of potato.  Only pulse the blender a few times to smooth it out–if the potatoes are overworked, what will happen is too much of the starch in the potatoes get released, and you’ll end up with wallpaper paste.  This is a soup where chunks are good and are to be expected. 

This is, also, where you put in some half and half.  Or heavy cream, if you’re daring.  Or low-fat milk, if you’re not.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

My perfect end to a rainy Sunday: curling up on the couch with a blanket and a steaming bowl of soup, and watching The Simpsons with the family.

Potato-Leek Soup

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts–appx. 6-7 leeks)
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (low-sodium or homemade), more if needed
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. In a large soup pot, melt butter on low heat.  Add leeks and sweat for about 15 minutes, until soft and tender, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add thyme sprigs, saute for one minute.  Add potatoes, and add enough stock to just cover contents of the pot. Bring heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low, and let simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Turn off heat, and with an immersion blender, pulse to puree soup, but still leaving somewhat chunky. 
  4. Stir in half & half and return to a low heat for a few minutes.
  5. Season with salt & pepper to taste. 

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On Christmas, some families are turkey-eaters.  Some, dine on a Standing Rib Roast or Rack of Lamb;  under my roof, it’s all about Ham.  And, one of the reasons why I love to have a ham on Christmas is to take the bone and bits of meat left behind, wrap it tightly in foil and then again in saran wrap, and stash it in the freezer for a spate of cold and wet weather like we’ve been having here in Southern California. 

There’s two things I like to make when I have a handsome hambone in my possession:  either my mother’s Lima Beans (not those awful hard mealy things you get in frozen vegetables, but the fat white ones) or Split Pea Soup.  This time around, it was going to be the latter.   It’s a simple recipe–I don’t add anything out of the ordinary, but sometimes, that’s all you really want: good, uncomplicated food. 

And can I tell you how much I love the word “hambone”?   I think if I ever get a dog, his name will totally be Hambone.

Choo gets grumpy when it’s wet outside,  so he was happy to come home to one of his favorite soups with a batch of homemade Buttermilk Biscuits. 

Split Pea & Ham Soup

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (or if you’re feeling dangerous, bacon fat)

1 large onion, medium dice

2 medium carrots, medium dice

2 large ribs celery, medium dice

1 hambone, with 1-2 cups of ham trimmed off (depending on what’s left that’s usable), chopped  and set aside

1-1 pound bag of dried split peas, picked through and rinsed

8 cups chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. Heat a 4 to 6-quart sized soup pot on medium flame;  add vegetable oil.
  2. Sweat onions, carrots and celery until glossy and onions are translucent.
  3. Add hambone, dried peas, chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme.  Bring to a full boil and then turn heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add reserved chopped ham and stir.  Return to simmer and let cook for another 30-45 minutes until peas are tender.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

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 It was a cold, drizzly day in L.A. yesterday, and we were expecting a few friends over to spend an evening of fun and frivolity.  But, what to make?  I needed a crowd pleaser that wasn’t too fussy, but hearty and relatively healthy after all the excesses of the holidays.  I thought of Chicken Cacciatore–full of vegetables, and I could lighten it a little by using skinless chicken thighs with the fat trimmed off.  Now, the Polenta–that’s what was decadent, loaded with Fontina cheese–was a great complement to the Cacciatore.   I also served this with red chard braised in chicken stock with onions and garlic, which is not pictured.

And props to my patient friends, who didn’t mind me setting up my studio immediately after I had finished my plate so I could take a picture. 

These recipes are made to serve 8, but can be easily halved.

Chicken Cacciatore

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, with the fat trimmed off (can use chicken breasts, but shorten cooking time because breasts will dry out quickly in braising)

1 1/2 cups flour, seasoned with salt & pepper

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 large white onion, diced

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 1/4 pounds crimini mushrooms, sliced

4 cloves garlic, diced

1 bay leaf

5 sprigs fresh thyme

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

3/4 cup dry white wine

1-28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

Salt & pepper

Chopped parsley (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. Heat 5-quart dutch oven on medium heat;  dredge chicken pieces in seasoned flour and brown 2-3 pieces at a time, about 3-4 minutes each side.  Place browned pieces on a plate and set aside. 
  3. Add onion, red pepper, mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and rosemary;  sweat on medium heat until the juices from the vegetables are released (mushrooms will release a lot of water) and simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquids begin to reduce. 
  4. Add white wine and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and oregano, and return chicken to the pot, burying the pieces in the sauce. 
  5. Bring to a full simmer again, top with lid, and put into oven for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and is fork-tender.
  6. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Creamy Polenta

4 cups water

4 cups lowfat milk

2 cups coarse ground polenta

6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded

Salt & pepper to taste

  1. While the Cacciatore braises in the oven, pour water and milk into 4 quart pot and bring to a hard simmer.
  2. Sprinkle the polenta into the simmering liquid (it should “rain” polenta–don’t just dump it in.  Dumping = Clumping.  Got it?), while whisking constantly. 
  3. As the polenta starts to thicken, switch to a wooden spoon to stir.  Stir frequently while polenta simmers–as it thickens, take care as it will start to bubble and splatter (think hot lava). 
  4. When the polenta is of a thickness like porridge, approximately 15 minutes, add fontina, season with salt and pepper and serve with Cacciatore.

Note:  This makes a rather large batch of polenta–if you have plenty leftover, pour the excess into a buttered loaf pan or cake pan.  Polenta firms up as it goes cold, and can be sliced into pieces and pan-fried–absolutely delicious served with eggs the next morning.

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