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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Soup's On

I made soup again. It was the best kind of soup - practically free and effortless (read made from leftovers). I made a pot roast on the weekend and the leftover meat, veg and "gravy" decided to become beef barley soup.

When we were kids, once in awhile we had what I thought of as "soup night". This was one of those rare suppers when we got enough to eat AND enough of food that we really liked. In my recollection, mom made a lot of things that I really liked, like spaghetti, steak and salad, roast beef, but she also made a lot of things that she either did not know how to cook, or that kids (or I) just did not like, like stew, Swiss steak, kidneys.

Indeed, once when I went camping with Pat we stopped at Tony's near the Willow Run airport (somebody correct me if I got that wrong) by Saginaw. As Pat said, slyly, "you'll like the stew - it's just like mom's". And it was. A bowl with a hunk of tough, gristly beef, a huge hunk of potato, another of carrot, all swimming in a thin, pale flavorless broth. That and all the bread you can eat for $1.50.

It wasn't until I was grown up that I learned that things like beef stew and pot roast were supposed to taste good. I worked at the Anderson's Music store in Royal Oak for a short time. My boss, who wore a handlebar mustache and flamboyant bow ties, often sent me to the grocery story on Main St. (now called The Cedars) for bread and cold cuts so we could all have sandwiches. Or he would bring in food and invite everyone to have lunch with him. Once he brought in lamb stew that his wife had cooked and invited me to have some. I declined. I didn't like stew. But he insisted so I had some. It was delicious! Tender, savory lamb in rich gravy, feather light dumplings perfectly done. I continue to search for the recipe to this day.

Somehow, on soup night, mom always seemed to get it right (unless she added too much water to the soup). On soup night we could all have as much soup and crackers as we wanted. And as a bonus, we each got a sandwich made with the elusive and tantalizing thuringer sausage that dad loved so much. Soup and sandwich may not sound like much, but crackers and margarine were cheap and filling and the hot soup was free flowing.

I'm guessing mom's flavorless leftover beef stew was probably turned into hearty beef and vegetable soup, where it was much more popular in its second incarnation.

The soup I made this week consisted of my leftover pot roast with the addition of a can of chicken broth, a half can of leftover corn kernels and about a half cup of barley. I also added a little extra water and a bit of bullion to re-adjust the seasonings. Not only was the soup (to my palate) delicious, it looked fabulous. In fact, it looked exactly like the soup I remember from soup night at home. I dished myself up a bowlful and spooned a big dollop of sour cream in the middle, just like mom used to do. That soup and a plate of crackers and Herkimer cheddar cheese took me back to supper on Sixth Street. I nearly cried. Bill wondered what I was upset about so I had to tell him.

Incidentally, Bill also partook of mom's perpetual stock pot. Brents will recall that there were times when mom kept a stock pot going on the back burner for days. Any leftovers went into the pot and the resulting concoction changed almost daily. Stew would turn into soup. The addition of beans and spices would turn that into chili and leftover pork and new spices made it barbecue for sandwiches.

Bill was visiting from Chicago one weekend and asked what was in the pot. I told him I didn't know but he was welcome to have some. It turned out to be mom's chili, which as I recall was quite good. Bill is a chili connoisseur. He served himself and pronounced it one of the best chilis he had tasted.

He came over the next day and saw the pot on the stove and asked if he could have another bowl of "that chili". But mom had added some diced meat and other mystery ingredients. Bill said it wasn't chili, it was barbecue. I told him the pot had never left the stove and contained everything it had the day before, and then some. He didn't believe me. He thought she had made a whole new pot of something else. He didn't know her very well, did he? He still talks about mom's delicious chili and barbecue to this day.

Next time pot roast is on sale, buy one. Be sure to buy enough for your dinner and some leftovers. You'll like the barley soup a couple days later. Here are my "recipes". You'll note I don't really measure. Don't worry, yours will be good.

For Pot Roast

Saute a chuck or other appropriate cut of beef (mine was a boneless blade roast) in a non-stick skillet until well browned on all sides. Meanwhile, place in a stew pot or dutch oven a couple carrots, celery stalks and onions, peeled and cut into large pieces. Add the beef along with a cup or so of red or white wine, some tomato sauce, juice or paste (or even a glob of ketchup) or fresh or canned tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and a little cayenne or red pepper flakes. Add a bouquet garni or some herbs de Provence and a few bay leaves.

Add enough water (use this water to "deglaze" the skillet) to almost cover the meat and place the pot in a 350 degree oven. After about a half hour turn down to about 250 or 275 and let it simmer several hours or until the meat and vegetables are tender. If you want a thick gravy you'll have to flour the meat when you brown it or add thickening to the broth. I left mine as it was and it was delicious.

You may wish to add potatoes, peeled and cut up, for the last hour or so of cooking. I made mashed potatoes instead and I served the pot roast (it was more like stew) in bowls with a scoop of mashed spuds alongside and the broth spooned over the whole thing (incidentally, I would make beef stew the same way, just cutting the meat into bite size pieces first).

You can serve this with bread and a salad, or just by itself. Put the leftovers in the fridge for soup a day or two later.

Beef Barley Soup

Before you put your pot roast or stew away, cut all the meat and vegetables into small dice. Put this and the leftover broth in the fridge in the same or separate containers. Chilling the broth or gravy in a separate container makes it easier to remove the layer of fat that will rise to the top of the chilled liquid.

To make your soup, remove any chilled fat and discard. Place your leftover meat, veg and broth in a soup pot or sauce pan and add a can or so of chicken broth (or water and bullion). Also add any leftover vegetables you have on hand and any additional fresh, canned or frozen vegetables. Peas, carrots and green beans are all good. Also add a half cup or so of barley. Bring to a simmer and cook until the barley is tender, about 40 minutes.

Taste the soup and season if necessary. A splash of balsamic or wine vinegar will brighten it up. Tomatoes or tomato soup or juice will also perk up a bland tasting soup.

Prepare some cold cuts or leftover ham, turkey, roast beef or what have you for sandwiches. Serve with plenty of crackers and cheese and add a dollop of sour cream to your bowl of soup if you wish. And eat hearty!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Eat Your Own Words.
"I live on good soup, not on fine words".

Friday, November 2, 2007

They Dined On Mince And Slices Of Quince

A couple years ago I planted a quince tree in my yard. This was to appease me for the three apple trees and two fig trees that never bore fruit, a multitude of blueberry bushes and various and sundry other failed gardening exploits.

Last year there was a single quince fruit on the tree. A squirrel (or the brats next door) got to it before I did. This year there were about a half dozen fruits, large and small, that I was able to pick.

My plan was to make quince jam, something I have never tried. I had no trouble finding recipes. Perhaps the most interesting are those in a book called Seven Centuries of English Cooking. This book features recipes for foods that might have been prepared and eaten by anyone from King Richard II through Queen Elizabeth II and anyone in between. The quince recipes are numerous and complicated sounding - find the book at .

Nowadays, recipes use modern English and don't usually call for "butter the size of a walnut" or instruct the cook to ftir with a fpoon of woode. They're easier to understand but less fun to decode.
I've read that quince is the ancestor of apples and pears, and some believe it was the fruit that Eve ate on the sly in the garden. I don't know how, it's hard as a rock and not very good unless it's cooked with sugar. But I also read that there is a variety of quince that ripens soft and sweet so there you go.

I peeled my quinces, cut them into wedges and hacked out the seeds and core. You can tell they're related to apples although they have WAY more seeds and the "core" is more like a lot of separate cores all through the middle. I guess the recipes that ask you to tie the seeds in cheesecloth and cook along with the fruit are hoping you won't end up wasting half the good stuff.

Quince contain lots of pectin, which is what makes jams and jellies gel. Most of it is in the seeds and skins so I guess tossing those parts is about the same as cooking bacon and wasting 75% of what you bought by throwing out the grease (that's why I always save bacon fat and use it for cooking).

You can make your own liquid pectin for use in other jellies by boiling the seeds and skins in water and saving that for later. There are even recipes for making jelly from apple cores and skins when the apples were used for pie or other recipes. The thrifty housewife was careful not to waste anything.

I chopped my quince fine (not easy as it was really hard) and covered it with water, simmered about a half hour as instructed, then added the sugar and cooked it down into something that resembled chunky apple sauce. As it cooked it got a lot thicker than apple sauce and turned a golden amber color.

I poured it into jars and put them into the pot for processing. As always there was a little left over, which I put into a small jar to go right in the fridge. When I removed the jars from the canning pot about 15 minutes later, I found that the processed jam had turned a deep rosy peach color while the jam that was not processed remained golden. An interesting observation.

I left the jars to cool overnight and then removed the bands for storage. I made some toast and spread on some butter and some of the jam. It did not smell like apples. It smelled like roses and honey. The texture was thick and sticky. The "chunks" dissolved as I spread the jam with my knife.

I couldn't tell if I liked it or not. But the color was beautiful. I decided I would make jam tarts using a kolacky pastry and bake the tarts in my mini muffin pan. Here's the recipe.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 small package (3 oz.) or half of an 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 cup all purpose flour

Let the butter and cream cheese stand in the bowl at room temperature until softened. Add the flour and beat to combine well.

Form the dough into a disk about an inch thick, wrap well and let rest about an hour.

You can roll the dough out about 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick and cut with a small circular cookie cutter, or you can form it into small balls and flatten each one. Use a mini muffin pan (the kind you might use to make mini quiche or those little pecan tarts that Bill's mom makes at Christmas). Press a dough circle into each muffin cup and bake at 325 degrees until golden. Allow to cool and remove from the pan. Fill each tart with a spoonful of quince jam or jam of your choice.

You can also use this dough to make kolacky or rugelach. For rugelach, form the dough into 2 disks and roll out into thin rounds. Brush each with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle on some chopped walnuts or pecans and cut into wedges like a pizza. Roll each up from wide end to center point and bake on a parchment lined sheet at 325 degrees until golden.

For kolacky just cut the dough into squares or rounds, place a dab of jam in the center, fold two sides or corners into the center and pinch to seal, and bake as above. Dust with powdered sugar when cool.

Quotable Quotes; In the category I Don't Care For Elderberry Wine!
"But you haven't tried the quince!" from Joseph Kesselring's play Arsenic and Old Lace