Pickled Cucumber

I found the original recipe in anPickled Cucumbers Irish cookbook – Rachel’s Irish Family Food. I’ve changed it around just a touch to suit my family’s tastes. Shallots have a milder taste than onions, so I prefer them.  It’s actually a nice side for Beef Ciorba. Very easy to do! I bought two Ball jars (canning jars) from Wholefoods to store the pickles in. They can keep for up to 3 months, but they don’t tend to last that long in my house!

Here’s what you need:

2 medium cucumbers, unwaxed if you can get them

I good-sized shallot

3/4 to 1 cup sugar (I use Splenda to keep down the carb count)

1/2 Tablespoon salt

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar if you prefer)

Here’s what you do:

Slice the cucumbers really thin.

Peel the shallots and slice them thin as well. Break the rings apart so they can mix better with the cucumbers.

Place both in a bowl. Add the sugar, salt, and vinegar to the cucumbers and shallots and mix it all well to combine.

If you’re planning to eat them right away, let it sit for an hour or so first. Otherwise, place the mix in a canning jar or divide evenly into two jars and place in the refrigerator.

Try different types of onions and vinegars for slightly different tastes. And enjoy!

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Corn and Red Pepper Chowder

Corn and red peppers make a great blend of flavors.It’s sleeting today, so with no school, I’m taking the opportunity to catch up on my blog. I actually made this a couple of weeks ago, but with all the strange weather (I live in Atlanta and that made national news!) and ESOL testing going on (I teach English for Speakers of Other Languages, and those of you who know the ACCESS test know how time consuming it can be!), I have neglected getting any writing done. Shame on me. So here’s the latest recipe and results.

Oh, and yesterday, I remade the Bean, Tomato and Pesto recipe with much better results! That’s my next post!

My daughter, Kathi, wanted me to try this chowder recipe. She has a restaurant close to where she works that serves a nice, spicy corn chowder, and she was hoping this was it.

The original recipe called for red chili peppers, which I couldn’t locate, and I didn’t want to risk habanera peppers, so I used serrano peppers. They aren’t as spicy if you remove the seeds, so the result was a milder chowder than what Kathi was looking for. Next time I’ll look harder for spicier peppers or try leaving the seeds in. But we all liked it. So it’s worth giving a try!

(Want some information on the various peppers? Check out this post at sheknows.com – Types of hot peppers. Their serranos are red – mine were green.)

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 – 14 oz can of creamed corn

2 red bell peppers, halved and seeded (You can save time from roasting the peppers if you want to. Simply buy a large can of roasted red peppers instead of fresh peppers.)

1 Tbsp olive oil, plus enough oil to brush the peppers

3 red chili peppers, seeded and sliced (I used serrano peppers.)

2 garlic gloves, chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp coriander

2½  cups of milk

1½  cups vegetable stock (You can use chicken stock if you’re not vegetarian.)

2 – 14 oz cans of corn kernels, drained and rinsed

1 lb of potatoes, peeled and finely diced (I used two average sized white potatoes.)

heavy cream

fresh parsley, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

To make the soup:

Roasting the peppers: If you are going to roast the peppers yourself, start here. They can be roasting and cooling while you do the other preparations. If you bought a can of roasted peppers, go to step 2.

  1. Preheat the oven broiler. Brush the peppers with the olive oil. Place them on a rack, or directly on the oven rack, skin side up. (If you put them directly on the oven rack, be careful not to burn yourself!) Broil for 8 – 10 minutes, until the skins are black and blistered. (You can probably get through steps 2 and 3 while they roast.)  Remove the peppers from the rack and place in a bowl to cool. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  After the peppers have cooled, peel the skins and dice the peppers. The skins will peel more easily the more blistered they are.
  2. Place the tomatoes and onions in a processor or blender. Process to a purée.
  3. Add the creamed corn and process again. Set aside for a sec.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the chili peppers and garlic. Cook until softened, 2-3 minutes, stirring to keep them from sticking.
  5. Add the cumin and coriander, and cook for another minute.
  6. Add the tomato, onion, and creamed corn purée. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If the peppers are cool enough, you can be peeling them now. If they are still too hot to peel after these 8 minutes, remove the soup from the heat and wait until you can peel the peppers to continue. Start to clean up behind yourself or take a break!)
  7. Pour in the milk and stock, stirring to mix.
  8. Add the corn kernels, potatoes, and roasted peppers. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
  9. Ladle it up, and add cream (if you want to) and sprinkle with parsley.

Serves 4-6.

We served it with grilled cheese sandwiches and had a wonderful snow-day meal!

Bean, Tomato, and Pesto Soup

Bean, tomato and pestoWell, since I said I’d tell you what worked and what didn’t as I experiment, I have to admit that although this soup was good, it wasn’t my favorite. My daughter Kathi agreed. And I know what I’ll do differently next time. And it is worth a “next time.” The soup is too easy to make to give up on it.

So far, I have been doubling recipes as I go. I like to be able to take soup to school as lunch, as does Kathi. So I make extra on purpose with that in mind. In doubling this recipe, I think I added too much pesto. I bought a 6 oz container and used it all — 3/4 cup instead of just the 2/3 cup needed. 

I also think I’ll add more beans. And I won’t process them. My husband suggested just leaving them whole. It’ll get rid of the “just skins” texture this batch had.

And that’s what this blog is all about – experimenting until you find exactly what you want in a soup! So try it anyway and see what you think. It’s a good soup; I just think it could be better!

Here’s what you’ll need:

4 cups (one box) vegetable broth – You can also use chicken broth if you’d prefer and no one is vegetarian.

1 – 14oz can butter beans – drain and rinse them to help remove any salt. You can use just about any legume – lima, great northern, navy, etc. My husband has an affinity for butter beans.

1/4 cup tomato paste – I finally found a tube of paste at Whole Foods instead of a can. I hate wasting the remaining paste in a 6 oz can. Of course, I doubled the recipe, so there wasn’t anything left of the 5.3 oz tube anyway. Oh well. It’s nice to know the tube exists for when I need the lesser amounts.

1/3 cup pesto – I chose basil pesto, since I know its taste. Since there’s now quite a variety of pesto available, I may try another next time I make this soup.

(Makes about 4-6 servings)

To make the soup:

  1. Place the beans (drained and rinsed) into a large pot.
  2. Add the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the tomato paste and pesto.
  4. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the soup to a food processor or blender. Blend it until it’s smooth.  OR – stick the immersion blender in the pot and smooth out the soup that way!
  6. Heat the soup back up for about 5 minutes.
  7. Serve it up and enjoy! What do you think?

Chicken Succotash Soup

Chicken SuccotashSince lima beans and corn are two of my younger daughter’s favorite vegetables, this recipe caught my eye as I browsed through a soup cookbook.

The book, simply titled, The Soup Book, has quite a few soups I’d like to give a try.1 The measurements are British as well as American, with instructions at the beginning having to do with a difference in how Brits and Americans measure a pint.

I guess I should have known that from the pubs. A pint of beer in London definitely felt larger than a pint in the US!

So, I’ve adjusted a little bit to suit what’s readily available in stores here.

This is the first time I’ve made this recipe, and I have to say it turned out pretty good. Even Charlotte likes it!

The recipe calls for one and a quarter cups of milk, but as I added half of it, I decided it was going to be thicker than I liked. So, when it came time to add the second half of the milk, I added water. (You’ll see a note about that in the list of ingredients.)

You’d never know I changed anything from the thickness and taste. Next time, I will try it without the milk altogether.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 pint (American pint, of course!) chicken stock – I usually get the boxed brand.                  Easier to deal with

3 or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, depending on the size

½ stick of butter (¼ cup)

2 onions, chopped

3 pieces of bacon, chopped

¼ cup all-purpose flour (for thickening)

2 – 14 oz cans yellow corn (kernels – make sure it’s not creamed corn!) – drained and              rinsed  (The rinsing helps get rid of salt added in the packing.)*

1¼ cups milk – For a less thick soup, reduce this to ½ cup of milk and ¾ cup of water

1 – 14 oz can lima beans – You can also use great northern or butter beans, but the                lima beans add a nice color. – drain and rinse these as well

Salt and pepper to taste

To make the soup:

1. Start with a pan large enough to hold the chicken breasts and broth, but not so large that the broth doesn’t cover the chicken. Boil the broth first, then add the chicken. Be careful not to let the broth splash and burn you. Let the broth come back to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil the chicken until it is cooked and tender, usually 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken breasts from the broth with a slotted spoon and let them cool. Turn the heat off the broth and set it aside. You’ll need it later.

Note – If you boil the chicken ahead of time, like the night before you plan to make the soup, you have two advantages: one, the chicken is much easier to handle and cut into bite-size pieces when it’s cold, and two, you can easily skim any unwanted fat off a cold broth – the fat rises to the top and congeals. Although with skinless breasts, there’s usually not a lot of fat.

2.  In a soup pot, melt the butter. Add the chopped onions and, over a medium heat, cook until they are tender, about 5 minutes.

3.  Add the chopped bacon to the onions. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until the bacon starts to brown. Ok, so this is not exactly low fat!

4.  Sprinkle in the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

5.  Add the chicken broth (reheated if it had been refrigerated) slowly to the onion mixture, stirring as you do. Bring the broth to a boil, stirring occasionally as it thickens. Remove from the heat.

6.  Add the corn to the broth along with ½ cup of milk.

7.  Turn the heat back on to medium and let the soup cook for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

8.  While the soup cooks, cut the chicken breasts into bite size pieces.

9. Add the chicken, lima beans, and either ¾ cup of milk or ¾ cup of water. Bring the soup to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.

Add salt and pepper, or let each person season to their own taste.

Ladle it out and enjoy!

This recipe serves about 6.

*You can also use fresh corn when it’s in season, cut from the cob.

1 Sheasby, Anne, ed. The Soup Book: All the Soups You Will Ever Need in a Collection of 200 Delicious Recipes for Every Season, with Chowders, Gumbos, Consommes and Broths Shown in 750 Photographs. Wigston: Anness, 2012. Print.   …Ok, so the title wasn’t as simple as I said it was!

Beef Soup (Ciorbă de Vacută)

beef ciorba

Beef soup, or ciorbă de vacută in Romanian, is a very easy ciorba to make. It’s a little time consuming, since the beef has to boil for a while, but it’s not at all labor intensive. This past week, I made it twice – once for dinner and the second time to stick in the fridge to snack on since the family left no leftovers!

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 onion, finely chopped – I stick my onions in the fridge while the beef boils. The cold onions don’t seem to bother my eyes as I cut them as much as onions at room temperature.

2 carrots, chopped

1 zucchini, chopped

3 Tbsp olive oil

1-1 ½ lb stew beef – If you have a beef-eating family like mine, go for the extra half pound. When I made this with just one pound, they all said, “Where’s the beef?”

3 Tbsp tomato paste

juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper to taste

To make the soup:

1.  Put the beef in a soup pot.  Fill the pot 2/3 full of water.  Bring the water to a boil, and let beef boil for a couple of hours until it’s tender.

During the second hour, I usually start cutting up the vegetables. Once I’ve cut up the celery and carrots, I set them aside in a bowl and retrieve the onions from the refrigerator.

I chop up the onions pretty fine. Even thought they’ll be well-cooked, I prefer smaller pieces of onion in my soup.

2.  Heat up the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the celery, carrots, and onions, and sauté them until they are tender.  Stir the mix up as it cooks to prevent it from burning. For me, this takes about 15 minutes.

3.  If you’ve timed it right, the beef is now done boiling and you have a nice beefy broth. Add the sautéed vegetables.

4.  Now add the tomato paste, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Since my family has different sodium requirements (or lack of sodium requirements), I usually forgo the salt altogether. Then each person can add what they want at the table.

5.  Let the soup simmer for another 30 minutes.

6.  With about 5 minutes left, add the chopped zucchini. This will keep a crunch in the zucchini.

Now, you’re ready to serve it up! Add a dollop of sour cream to your bowl of soup, and enjoy!

Getting Started

So, it’s almost 2014 and I thought I’d start a blog. Not a New Year’s resolution. Just something that sounds like fun. And with all the things I’m an expert at, I decided to write about something I’m learning about – making soup. Why? Because I just finished my second soup in as many days, and I find I really like doing it!

So, I thought as I try new soups, I’d share my newfound knowledge.

First, some background. I spent 6 weeks in Romania this past summer with an Army ROTC program as a Director of Instruction, which meant I assisted our own Army ROTC cadets in teaching English to Romanian military personnel. Great program. Had a lot of fun and met some wonderful people.

And I was introduced to some excellent cooking! Romanian meals are still social events. Rather than eat in a hurry and chow down food prepared in a haste, everyone expects to be at the table for a while, sharing the day’s events, and ideas, and comments on life in general.  I can’t remember a dinner that was less than two hours long.  I absolutely loved it!

Each meal began with a soup. This was summer remember. I asked Cristian, one of the Romanian Air Force captains, and a new friend, if they always had soup. “Every day! It’s what keeps us healthy.” So, on the base, in the restaurants, soup was a staple. I tried different ones , but the ciorbăs became my favorite.

Ciorbăs are a sour soup, often made with lemon juice and into which one adds sour cream. Chicken, beef, potato, fish, meatball, vegetable, even tripe (okay, I couldn’t get myself to try that one!) – you name it, it’s probably available as a sour soup.

I also lost ten pounds over the 6 weeks.  In retrospect, I do believe I can attribute that at least partly to the soups. So, I started eating soup for lunch here every day. True, it’s more a meal here than an appetizer, and as a public school teacher, I am often drinking it quickly and not savoring it (a twenty-four minute lunch just isn’t healthy, but that’s a whole other blog!).

But it did make me feel better. I’m sure there are all sorts of medical reasons this is true, but I’m not a specialist in that type of thing, so I won’t even try to explain it. So far, I’ve kept that weight off. But as good as our canned soups here may be, I still found something lacking. Or rather, I found the canned soups are all too heavy for my taste. Like eating a gravy-based meal. It tastes good, but left me feeling bloated. Or if they aren’t too heavy, they are broth-based with little more in them than broth.

So I decided to make my own soups. And that leads us here to this blog. I’m going to try a new soup every other week or so and let you know how it turns out.  I’ve done a beef ciorbă twice now, and my family seems to like it, so I’ll start with that. So look for my next post!

Oh, and if you have a recipe you’d like to send me, please email me at simmerdown2014@gmail.com and maybe I’ll give it a try. Who knows, maybe I’ll break down and even try ciorbă de burtă. I just won’t tell anyone it’s tripe!