Mom, Wife, Chef, Gardener, Dog Wrangler, Mom, Writer, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Mom, Creative Problem Solver, DIY Chick...figuring out life one day at a time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mom/Chef…Comforting soup for the winter doldrums

We are still having some cold, snowy days here in Northern Montana, but the majority of the time it is just cold and brown. Mud is everywhere since it warms up enough for the snow to start to melt, then freezes again. For the first time in my life I truly understand and appreciate having a mud room. An entrance to the house where people can take off muddy, wet boots and coats before it gets tracked all over the kitchen and living room. Our mud room also includes the laundry room and has an entrance straight into the bathroom, for those days when Tim comes home covered in hydraulic fluid or something equally messy.

It was cold when we moved here in November and it is still cold, the weather varying between snowy, windy and just cold and wet. Needless to say, I am ready for spring. When looking through the fridge last week, wondering aloud what to do with all the potatoes I had lying around, not to mention a bag of snap peas I’d bought for snacking but hadn’t finished, Tim reminisced about a soup from his childhood. When I think potato soup, I immediately think of a thick, hearty puree, smooth and white. Tim’s childhood soup involved picking new potatoes and peas fresh from the garden, lightly cooking them and creaming the soup out for a chunky, fresh tasting soup. As soon as he described it I was sold. Here is my version of Tim’s garden potato and pea soup. It is quick, easy and very delicious. Potatoes and peas add a little bit of spring to an otherwise windy, cold and muddy brown March.

Leek, potato and pea soup

Leek, Potato and Pea Soup.

1 ½ pounds small yellow potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into roughly 1/2'’ dice.

1 large leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced into half moons.

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1-2 cups snap peas, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces. (Frozen green peas would work fine too)

1 quart chicken or vegetable stock or water

1 cup heavy cream or dairy of your choice

Butter, salt and Pepper

Your choice of fresh or dried herbs, good choices are: Thyme, dill, tarragon. (Optional)

Slice leek in half, thinly slice into half moons and place in a large bowl full of cold water. Let the Leeks sit and soak for 10 minutes, gently swishing them occasionally to get all the grit out of the layers. Scoop the leeks from the bowl and drain, leaving the gritty water in the bowl.

Wash and dice potatoes, if you are doing this ahead of time, you can put the potato pieces in a bowl covered with cold water until ready to use.

Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add drained leeks and add a pinch of salt. Cook the leeks slowly until they get very soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. When leeks are soft add garlic and cook 1 minute. Then add the potatoes, herbs if you are using them, and stock. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the potatoes are cooked through but not too mushy. 15 or more minutes, depending on the size of your potato chunks. If you are using snap peas then throw them in halfway through the potato cooking time, frozen green peas can go in at the very end. Once potatoes and peas are cooked through, add the dairy and taste for salt and pepper. Potatoes tend to soak up a lot of salt, so don’t be afraid to add plenty. Let the soup warm (but don’t let it boil) for about 5 minutes and serve. Eat and think of spring.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Mom/Preservationist….The weekend canning project part 2.

So in the last post I wrote about how we used up the 25 pounds of tomatoes. Now it’s time for the 20 pounds of citrus.

Over the first week we had eaten some of it, maybe 5 pounds. We ate the pomelo and some of the oranges and mandarins. But there was still plenty left that needed to be used up. Now when I have extra citrus I think marmalade, because I love marmalade. I researched several recipes and ended up cobbling together this one from AltonBrown and this one from Food in Jars. The Alton Brown method has you boil the thinly sliced oranges for about 40 minutes until the peel is soft. The Food in Jars method calls for an overnight soak to soften the peel. I decided on a several hour soak followed by a 15 minute boil. That way the oranges could soak while the tomato sauce and ketchup took up the stove, and then go on to cook for a (hopefully) shorter cooking time while the pressure canners cooled off from the tomatoes.

Okay, here’s my process (this is not really a recipe, just the process I used).

First I separated the Seville (a.k.a. sour) oranges from the rest of the citrus. I ended up with about 3 pounds of Seville oranges and about 5 pounds of mixed Navel oranges and tangerines. There were also a good 3 pounds of mandarins and 4 small blood oranges. The mandarins were set aside and the blood oranges I put in the fridge for later snacking.

I washed all the citrus then thinly sliced it, keeping it separated into two batches, Seville and mixed citrus. The Seville oranges are super seedy and hard to work with. The best way I found is to cut the oranges into halves then cut out the center pith. That gets out a good portion of your seeds, and the rest are easier to pick out as you thinly (1/16”) slice the orange halves.

so many seeds!
Don’t throw away the seeds and center pith, those can go into a pile on a piece of cheesecloth along with the end slices from each orange, they’ll come in handy later.
seeds and pith trimings
The orange slices to into a big bowl and get covered with water. Since our well water is kind of soft and baking soda-ish tasting, I always use filtered water for cooking. Gather up the cheesecloth into a bag and tie it closed with kitchen twine. Place it on top of the submerged oranges and let sit on the counter at room temp. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap if you have dogs in the house that shed a lot.
soaking oranges
When you are ready to start cooking your marmalade, dump the citrus and the cheesecloth bag into a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer, skimming off any foam, for 20 minutes or until the peel of the fruit has softened. Remove the cheesecloth bag and stir in the sugar. Seville oranges are very sour so I used probably 6-7 cups of sugar for 3 pounds of oranges. I started with 5 cups and then tasted it throughout the process until it was the sweetness level that I wanted. Stir the sugar in until it dissolves and place a candy thermometer in the pot. Let the marmalade simmer until it reaches 220 degrees. I think my marmalade didn’t quite make it past 210, but if you put a small plate in the freezer when you start cooking your marmalade you can use the plate test. If you think your marmalade is ready, pull the plate out of the freezer and put a drizzle of the marmalade on the plate. If it jells up pretty quickly then you are done. If it stays runny then you need to cook it more.

Now my naval orange/tangerine marmalade gave me a little bit of trouble. Seville oranges are chock full of natural pectin so they jell up just fine. The tangerine mix didn’t seem to have quite as much pectin in it; I used 5 cups of sugar for the 4 pounds or so of citrus. It tasted sweet enough to me but didn’t jell very firmly during the plate test. I had taken Alton Brown’s advice and added a lemon to the marmalade for the extra pectin, but it still wasn’t firming up. I ended up adding 2 packets of liquid pectin to help it along, because at that point I didn’t want it any sweeter and I had been boiling it for over half an hour and didn’t want to overcook it. It eventually set up, but it isn’t as firm a jell as the Seville orange marmalade is.  All the marmalade was processed in the water bath canner for 20 minutes. (I always add a little extra time to my processing because of our altitude.)
marmalade close up

Finally, to end our citrus saga, I peeled all the ‘cutie’ style Mandarin oranges,which, due to their easy to peel-ness, is a great thing for toddlers to help with . Connor had fun getting the peels off.
Mandarin oranges being peeled
 Then I made a simple syrup of 5 ¾ cups water to 1 ½ cups sugar, placed the orange segments in clean jars, covered them with the hot simple syrup and processed them in the water bath canner for 15 minutes. Voila, homemade canned mandarin oranges. For basic, “can it be canned?” questions, I have found this site, "Pick Your Own" to be very helpful.  Pick Your Own is actually a farm's website but they have such a comprehensive canning and preserving section that I find myself consulting them regularly.

canned mandarin oranges
Since blogging about this process has taken me four times as long as the actual canning weekend did, I will very quickly mention that I also made 4 pints of apple sauce using the recipe from “Homemade Pantry” and 2 quart jars of lemony cauliflower pickles, recipe originally from the amazing author of Food in Jars. The cauliflower pickles are refrigerator pickles so they didn’t have to be processed in the canner. They are lemony, salty and amazing as a side to a snack of cheese and crackers. The kids love the applesauce. Alana uses a food mill to puree her apple sauce nice and smooth whereas I usually leave mine chunky. I tried the food mill version and the kids have both been devouring it.


Here ends this month’s canning saga. Sorry it has taken me so long to update. I find when I have to choose between sleep and blogging, sleep has been wining out lately. I have several more posts planned, so hopefully I can get them out in a reasonable time and this site will start to feel like a real blog again.