My co-workers have launched into a “new frontier” this week going from using paper to track their work to using an online electronic database. For weeks myself and one other staff person have been learning how to use and customizing the system to get ready for our big “launch” which included day long training for 17. My co-workers all traveled to a central location, making arrangements to leave their families and other responsibilities, to participate. It was and will be a lot of work to make this transition and we rarely get together as a group given what is involved. What could be more symbolic of our working relationship that breaking bread together and leaving at the end of the day well fed? Plus, given all the other potential for disaster in the days leading up to the training (Can you say missing PowerPoint slides?) and the days immediately after, at least I’d be assured lunch would come off successfully.
I was thinking about making a corn and chicken chowder this week and came across a “succotash” soup recipe with corn and lima beans. One of my favorite things is finding a recipe that uses up items I have in the freezer leftover from other recipes – in this case an opened bag of lima beans and leftover chard. I’ve changed the recipe a bit and merged my grandmother’s New England corn chowder with this Southern succotash. Minestrone on the other hand is an old favorite from back in my vegetarian days. It’s great for parties and to warm belly and soul on a cold night. I’ve not made it for quite some time: The last time was for a friend’s baby shower. My friend passed away not too long after that party, and until now the thought of making that soup has not felt very celebratory (Though it was a wonderful day with many happy memories and she and everyone else loved the soup.) It’s long past time to bring it back – she’d be excited for me at the launch of this new project. And I know how much she would love that the soup helped to nourish a wonderful group of smart, talented, dedicated, hardworking people during a long day of training. Plan ahead: These soups, like many, taste better when cooked the day before, cooled overnight and re-heated the next day. The day of the lunch, the soups were re-heated in slow cookers and everything was served with a big green salad and rolls with butter.
North Meets South Succotash Soup
Serves a crowd
4 slices of bacon, chopped
½ yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
4 large yellow gold potatoes, medium diced
½ bag of frozen green lima beans
1 bag frozen yellow corn
5-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Water for poaching chicken – about 3-4 quarts [Save after poaching to use in the soup]
2 cups skim milk (I used Calorie Countdown fat free)
1-2 cups cream (You can use all milk, but I do love the richness of cream)
2 T chopped parsley
Poach the chicken breasts in barely simmering salted water for about 15-20 minutes until done, but still tender. Cool and chop into bite sized pieces. Be sure to keep the poaching liquid for the soup! In a large soup pot, sauté the chopped bacon until it releases its fat and begins to brown. Add the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the potatoes, the chicken poaching liquid, frozen corn and frozen lima beans. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft. Use an immersion blender to blend *some* of the vegetables into the soup base to thicken the soup. Leave some of the vegetables whole. (You can also transfer some of the soup to a traditional blender. If you do so, be sure to wait until the soup has cooler and is no longer a burn hazard). Add the chicken, milk and cream. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Add the parsley before serving.
I’ve never measured ingredients for a minestrone soup: use the vegetables that you have on hand combined with beans and pasta for a hearty but economical meal. Feel free to adjust the types of vegetables based on the season. I tend to avoid strong tasting vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower, but I have seen recipes that use them effectively by steaming separately and adding at the end.
Serves a crowd
2.5 cups of cooked cannellini beans [I used dried beans, soaked overnight and then cooked until just tender. I reserved the cooking stock to use in the soup. If you can’t use dried beans, pick up two cans of your favorite bean from the store. Kidney, cannellini, navy, lima/butterbean, or pinto are all good options. Drain and rinse canned beans before adding to the soup.]
½ a yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed lightly but not chopped
2-3 carrots, medium diced
3 ribs of celery, medium diced
3 zucchini, medium diced
1 – 10 oz pack of frozen chopped spinach
1 cup cooked and chopped Swiss chard
2 – 14oz cans of diced tomatoes with their juice
2 cubes of vegetable bullion
About 3-4 quarts of water or bean stock from cooking beans
1.5 T of dried Italian seasoning (Use one that is heavy on the parsley and basil, light on the oregano and rosemary. Those of you who have access to it, I used a packet of the GHA Italian herb blend. Thanks Maureen!)
8 oz of dried pasta, such as elbow, cooked separately, to add into the soup when serving
Pesto – optional topping for the soup when served
Leftover rind of parmesan cheese – optional seasoning for the soup as it cooks
[Nov 7, 2011. 8:30PM. Ooops! forgot to add the directions for this soup. Couldn’t be simpler. Saute the onions is a small amount of olive oil. Add everything else EXCEPT the cooked pasta and pesto if using. Simmer on low for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the rind of cheese when serving. If its too thick, add a bit of water to thin. Add the cooked pasta just before serving and put a dollop of pesto on top of each bowl. ]
The final lunch item was a big pot of “red rice.” I riffed off of recipes from “Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen” and Bill Neal’s “Southern Cooking.” These are two of the cookbooks that introduced me to the food of the South; I fell in love with all the stews and gumbos and rice dishes in their pages. These chefs have never failed me. Look over Prudhomme’s chapter on jambalaya and Neal’s recipes for purloos on pages 45 to 47 to see my inspiration. The seasoning base was cooked the night before and then the seasonings, raw rice and stock were combined to cook in my new 10 cup rice steamer on site the day of the lunch. The steamer worked great and I will definitely use the method again to make rice dishes for parties (Hello Spanish paella for 30!). This is a great end of summer/early fall dish to use of the last of the eggplants and peppers from the garden.
Red Rice with Smoked Turkey Sausage
Makes 18 cups (or more) of red rice
2 T vegetable oil
½ to 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1-2 large clove(s) of garlic chopped
3-4 small bell peppers chopped
2-3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeds discarded and finely chopped (leave the seed in if you like it spicy)
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 smoked turkey sausage/kielbasa, small diced
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with their juice or any leftover tomatoes and tomato products to make up the equivalent. Plus a second can of tomatoes if needed (see directions below).
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning or a combination of thyme, basil, red pepper, paprika, cumin and garlic powder. Add more seasoning blend if you want it more spicy!
Additional salt and pepper to taste: Cajun spice often has salt, so check this before adding more.
5 cups raw rice (I always use Thai Jasmine rice, but use whatever white long grain rice you have on hand)
4 cups of chicken stock
Enough water to fill the steamer pot to the ten cup mark – about 1 to 1.5 cups additional water once the ingredients go in the pot.
Hot sauce for serving
[Technically you can do all this cooking directly in the rice steamer. This is a great option if you have electricity, but no stove – take heed dorm room and office kitchen chefs! Use the “white rice” feature to heat up the pot for cooking and follow the directions below. See your steamer’s instruction or recipe book for more tips.]
Sauté the onions in the vegetable oil until they are wilted. Add the celery and bell pepper and cook 5 more minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring and checking to make sure it does not scorch. Add the eggplant and smoked sausage and cook about 5 more minutes before adding the tomatoes and seasonings. This is your seasoning base and you should end up with about 8-9 cups of veggies in liquid. If you have less, add more of the second can of tomatoes you have held in reserve. If you are cooking right away, transfer the seasoning base to the rice cooker pot, if not cool and store in the refrigerator overnight.
Place your seasoning base in the steamer pot, add the raw rice, the 4 cups of stock and stir until mixed. Check the level of liquid in the pot – it should be at 10 cups measure mark. If not, add enough water to reach that line. Stir. Place the pot in the steamer, close the lid and set the steamer for “white rice.” Let cook until the steamer switches to “warm.” This should take about 40-50 minutes, more or less. Every cooker is different so allow enough time for the dish to cook. When done, open the lid, let the steam escape and give it a brief stir. Close the lid and let sit for 5 more minutes before serving.
You should be able to make this dish in the oven: use an oven proof skillet with a lid, or a Dutch oven to cook the seasoning base, add the rice, stock and water. Stir, cover and bake in a pre heated 325 degree oven about 40-50 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Resist opening the pan; the rice needs to steam in the liquid. Cook less time if you are making a smaller amount of rice.